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APPENDIX A 



Digitized by the Internet Archive 

in 2012 with funding from 

LYRASIS Members and Sloan Foundation 



http://archive.org/details/appendixaOOcarr 



Also by Hayden Carruth 

The Crow and the Heart 



HAYDEN CARRUTH 



APPENDIX 



A 



THE MACMILLAN COMPANY, NEW YORK 
COLLIER-MACMILLAN LIMITED, LONDON 




© Hayden 



All rights reserved — no part of this book may be 
reproduced in any form without permission in writ- 
ing from the publisher, except by a reviewer who 
wishes to quote brief passages in connection with a 
review written for inclusion in magazine or news- 
paper. 



First Printing 

Printed in the United States of America 



The Macmillan Company, New York 
Collier-Macmillan Canada, Ltd., Toronto, Ontario 

Library of Congress catalog card number: 63-17512 



DESIGN BY R. A. KASELER 



With thanks to Peter Laderman. 



PUBLISHER'S NOTE 



Although this document was written in fulfillment of a prior 
contractual obligation, it would not have come to the attention 
of the publishers if it had not been through the agency of persons 
acting in what may best be described as a semiofficial capacity. 
It is now, in fact, part of a subdepartmental dossier in the files of 
a state bureau of public health. No illegality, or any improbity 
whatever, is attached to its publication, but considerations of pri- 
vate sensibility nevertheless dictate that no further identification 
be made. The reasons for publishing it in this uncorrected state 
will be, we hope, evident to those who read it. Publication has 
been arranged with the author's knowledge, and by the kind per- 
mission of Mr. Geoffrey Whicher Carruth, Crossington, Ohio. 



PART I 



CHAPTER 1 



Forgive me for being so late. I always have the devil's own time 
getting started, if you want to know the truth. You're aware of the 
type? Continually putting things off? I think of people like Agassiz 
or Fangio or Goethe, the big doers, guys with a list of accomplish- 
ments five yards long, and it's not their genius that depresses me 
so much, though God knows I feel the lack of it — usually anyway; 
then sometimes I get hopped up on an idea for a poem and I won- 
der what genius is anyway, who's got it, whether anybody's got it, 
etc. — but as I say, it's not the ability of great men that depresses 
me so much as their goddamned readiness to begin. Don't they 
ever stop to think of the complications that are going to come up? 
Or how bored and fed up they are going to be before it's over? 
Believe me, that's what I think about. Only you can't really call it 
thinking, just brooding. 

Take Casanova. Must have been innocent as a child. How else 
could he manage all those beginnings? — that first inquisitive look, 
a soft word, and then: Allow me to bring you another cup of that 
splendid Malaga, and Wouldn't it perhaps he somewhat refreshing 
to stroll in the rose garden — whammo! he's in again, and God 
knows what catastrophes will ensue; as like as not a stiletto in the 
small of his industrious back. Did he never falter? 

Me, I falter. I'm the greatest goddamned falterer of all time. 
Seduction is a fine and wholesome thing, a pursuit to be cultivated 
with close attention; but the beginning, a new one each time, is 
tough. I mean that point where the first look is just giving way to 
the soft word; the point, I imagine, at which the redoubtable Don 

3 



swung closed the casements of his mind, shutting out the light of 
good sense — presuming he had any. Which is not a very nice way 
to talk about the first Spanish antifascist, especially since I claim no 
particular good sense myself. Nevertheless, that point — when the 
look is leading to the word — is precisely the point at which I light 
another cigarette and begin thinking about getting the hell out of 
there. Not from nerves; not any more; I've reached the somewhat 
less nervy time of life; and besides, seducing the women I'm likely 
to come up against in my line of work is more or less like feeding 
herrings to the sea lions: once they get the idea there's not much 
holding back. Damned little gratitude you get, too, when the 
herring's all gone. 

Here I am, talking about sex already, and I've only just intro- 
duced myself. Not much of a way to make a good impression, is it? 
Not much of an introduction, for that matter. But I haven't time 
for anything further about myself at this point — I'll get to it later. 
The main thing is, I wanted to establish friendly relations right 
here at the beginning of this novel or autobiography or dissertation 
or whatever the hell it is — I haven't really decided yet. I'm going to 
be relying on you a good deal from now on, you see: for patience 
and understanding and all that; and so I thought I'd best start right 
out by addressing you directly, though of course I realize it's an 
unusual way to begin a book. But it isn't quite the same as sticking 
my foot in your door, is it? I hope not; I've no desire to be un- 
mannerly or overbearing — not like some of the young guys writing 
nowadays. You can always shut me out any time you want to, just 
by closing the book. 

I had intended to make this introduction some time ago. On 
June 1, as a matter of fact. That's when I came up here, after having 
been in another part of the country for a long time. "Up here," of 
course, is the Berkshire hills in northwestern Connecticut; and I 
don't know why I say "of course" except that it's now July 24 and 
I have been here for nearly two months and the place seems so 
familiar and real to me I can hardly imagine you don't feel it too. 
But naturally you can't. A nice little cottage, white clapboards and 
black shutters and a stout chimney, all the usual refinements, shut 
away at one end of a small valley where the pines and hemlocks 
stand around like old men diddling themselves. A friend loaned it 

4 



to me; otherwise — hell, I'd still be back where I came from. A fine 
place to write, my friend said, and I thought so too; at first anyway. 
But that was two months ago, as I say, and it has taken me all this 
time to get started. 

Scared? Scared stiff — that's the simple truth. Scared of sitting 
down and starting a book. Sure, I've written plenty of things before 
— poems mainly, and a lot of reviews, essays, sketches, reports, and 
so on— but never a whole book at one shot. Jaysus, I said to myself, 
that'll keep going for months, maybe years; and I'd never written 
anything I couldn't pretty well polish off in a couple of afternoons. 
Scared stiff — so I was, and so I still am. Scared I won't have the 
courage or the intelligence or the simple strength to get through 
everything I've got to say. Scared it will be awful, rotten, unread- 
able. . . . You know, though, these hills are full of writers, so I've 
discovered, and maybe this will turn out to be a good place after 
all for what I have to do, now that I'm started. You can hardly 
turn around up here without knocking into a writer — a poet or a 
critic or a novelist. Rich, fat, healthy guys, most of them, with 
puffy backs and freckles on their bald scalps, hanging around the 
post office at ten o'clock in the morning, like the old men and the 
boy with the twisted leg. Plenty of money in their pockets. Most 
of them haven't stirred from here for years (except to go down to 
New York every off month to get plastered), but they always look 
at you as if they'd just come back from Mount Kilimanjaro or 
somewhere. Tell the truth, I felt a little that way myself when I 
first came up here. I had some money in my pockets too; but the 
main thing is I had a contract. I mean this Mr. Meredith at the 
Macmillan Company, he likes my poems — which is okay, because 
I'm a pretty fair hand at poetry — and he said he'd advance me some 
money against "expected future royalties" and give me a contract 
to go with it. Fact. I've got the damned thing in my desk drawer 
right now, signed, sealed, and done up in a blue paper binder. 

Of course there's nothing in the contract says Macmillan has got 
to publish this book if Meredith doesn't like it after I've finished 
it and sent it on to him. Nothing at all. In a way I can shove off 
some of the responsibility for what follows onto him. If you've 
gotten this far, then you know Meredith has liked what I wrote 
and has agreed to offer it to you (for a price), which means that 

5 



whenever you don't approve of what you read in this book — some 
of which is going to be undeniably raw, I warn you, and some un- 
avoidably abstract — you can blame him as much as me. But I don't 
know if he'll give you your money back. 

A further point; or rather two. Meredith and the Macmillan 
Company aside, I'm writing this book because it must be written. 
Must . You'll see. If the things I am going to say can't be put down 
here at last in some kind of decent order, then it will mean the 
damnation of us all. 

Anyway I need your help. Your forbearance, your good will, your 
trust. If I possessed the genius of a Joyce or a Proust — or their 
blindness, insensibility, pigheadedness, whatever it was that enabled 
them to scrawl out on paper, year after year, all their own purga- 
tions and self-betrayals — I still could not say clearly what must be 
said in this book. Not clearly enough, that is. It could never be clear 
enough. We must muddle along and hope for the end, recognizing 
that none of us may get out of this with his skin. I shall be calling 
on you often — and quite directly, though I know this runs counter 
to all the rules of fashionable writing — for your help. 

Bonne chancel 



CHAPTER 2 



The tone of that first chapter is uncertain, I know; timorous, 
hesitant, stumbling, a touch forlorn — in the conventional manner 
of ingratiation. Never mind; I'll go back to it and fix it later. The 
important thing now is to get on with the business at hand while 
the starting momentum is still with me. 

First, I find I'm obliged to say something about the city of 
Chicago, Illinois. Much has been said already about the city of 
Chicago, Illinois, of course, by writers of many persuasions and in 
many times and places; and 90 percent of what they have said has 
been defamatory, as we know. But true. That's the hell of it. 
Chicago is cruel, corrupt, filthy, stupid, libidinous, etc., etc. — all 
the things that anyone has ever said about it. I've lived there and I 
know. Anyone else who has ever lived there will tell you the same 
thing; and quite cheerfully, too; Chicagoans are, above all, realists. 
Since I also am a Chicagoan (now in spirit if not in fact) and 
hence a realist, much of what I shall say in this book about 
Chicago, which is where the events I want to explain to you took 
their course, will be defamatory and — in my memory at least — true. 
But before I get into that, Fd like to point out one or two things 
on the other side of the account. 

People talk about Chicago. Perhaps they do so because they 
despise Chicago, because they fear and revile the city of Colonel 
McCormick, Potter Palmer, the Capone brothers, and the Century 
of Progress; but people do at least talk about it. They do not talk 
about Omaha, for instance. Or Minneapolis. Characterless cities. 
When was the last time you heard of anything happening in 

7 



Omaha? If the truth were told, all I know about Omaha was the 
occasion — Independence Day, 1919, I believe — when the mayor's 
daughter, who was a member of the company on the speakers' dais 
at a Populist rally, bent over to retrieve her glove and was acci- 
dentally goosed by the cane of William Jennings Bryan. "Jesus 
Christ," she said, "watch where you put that thing!" I don't say it's 
true. I don't say anything's true. 

As I remarked, this levon, which is what I've decided to call this 
book — a feeble invention, but let it pass; I'll explain when I get a 
chance — will contain a certain amount of unpleasantness anent 
Chicago. Inevitably so. But now it is a question for me of two 
places and two times: the present here in Connecticut, these hills 
with their gracile birches and lugubrious hemlocks; and that other 
time ten years ago, my memories of Chicago's frayed concrete and 
eaten chrome. A polarity — the fashionable mental stance. Yet of 
the two, my affection attaches itself, whether I will or no, to the 
city, to the place of corruption and decay; I am pulled there by 
sights and sounds so deeply a part of me, even after a decade, that 
I feel almost like — well, it seems absurd to say so, but I do feel 
pulled, stretched like taffy, wrenched and racked away from these 
hills and toward the city. Absurd. From every standpoint. Not the 
least of them being this tranquillity, which I've never known before. 

Chicago has the best waterfront in the world, bar none. This is 
extremely important, because Chicago, a far from characterless city, 
as I have said, takes much of its character from Lake Michigan. 
"Waterfront" is technically the correct term, but isn't precisely 
what I mean, since it conveys an impression of wharves, ware- 
houses, bristling cranes, ships, etc. Chicago has a waterfront in this 
sense too, down to the south in the region of Calumet where the 
ore boats, upon whose drudgery the city's prosperity relatively de- 
pends, put in to discharge their cargos. This is a fine arrangement, 
because it leaves most of the rest of the city's long lovely margin 
free for other uses. Incidentally, Chicagoans do not call it the 
waterfront; they use the term "Lakeshore," and the huge autobahn 
which runs its length and furnishes the quickest means of transit 
from the North Side to the South Side is called Lakeshore Drive. 
The Lakeshore itself falls southeasterly in a scraggly line, down 
from Evanston and Milwaukee and beyond, to the coastal sweep of 

8 



Indiana; an ancient lacework of whitecaps fringing the threadbare 
carpet of the city and the prairie; twenty or twenty-five miles in 
length, I imagine, with beaches here and there, parks and lagoons, 
several marinas for private watercraft, and a great drawbridge which 
divides and rises above the Chicago River like two stubby thumbs; 
and at the low places along the edge of the lake there are parapets 
of stepped stone to hold back the waves during storms. One re- 
members, when walking along the Lakeshore, that ' 'Chicago* * 
comes from an Indian word meaning "swamp," according to one 
derivation, and that many points in the city are below the level of 
Lake Michigan; in fact, a good deal of the Lakeshore as it appears 
today, including some of the parks and the flossiest residential 
quarters, has been created artificially by means of dumping enor- 
mous quantities of rubble into the swampland and even into Lake 
Michigan itself. I'd be the last to disapprove. Once you grant that 
that part of the earth may as well be occupied by people as by 
ducks and herons — not to speak of mosquitos — then the new Lake- 
shore is certainly more charming and salubrious than the former 
quagmire must have been. 

Chicagoans are seldom aware of living in a port. Some people 
may consider this a misfortune, people whose images of water- 
fronts derive, for instance, from old lithographs of Thameside — a 
jungle of masts with lianas of rigging, bowsprits mounting the 
wharves like unicorns, odors of hemp and spice and pitch, a cosy 
grogshop across the street. You won't find anything like that in 
Calumet today, nor in London probably. Only rusty monsters, 
spritless and scant-masted, leaking at dockside like flensed whales. 
Cargos boxed tight or cosmolined, ladled into the holds by me- 
chanical hoists, like evil-smelling offerings to Moloch himself. 
Anyway, you can't get in. The docks are shut fast behind board 
fences, and the gates are manned by stooges demanding to see 
your union badge; the grogshop across the street is Harry's Blue 
Anchor Bar & Grill where the beer hasn't been washed off the floor 
since the Pullman strike; even the longshoremen wouldn't go there 
if they could figure out a way to keep beer from going flat in a 
thermos bottle. 

Lake Michigan is the largest lake in the world, but still a lake. 
There are other fine bodies of water beside which to raise one's 

9 



habitation, I'm sure. You always hear about the Bay of Naples. I 
was billeted in Naples once, waiting for a ship to take me home 
after the war, and it's a splendid sight, no doubt — the extraordinary 
blue catching spangles of sunlight, and at night the velvety dark- 
ness wearing the lamps of the Esplanade like a tiara. Yes, a fine 
body of water. But is it a body, after all — in any meaningful sense? 
If so, then a horrible one, gross, spreading illimitably beyond the 
horizon, a vast vague dispersion of flesh. People speak of the 
mystery of the sea, and of the benefits bestowed upon those who 
live by it and atune their thoughts to it. Maybe so, I don't deny it, 
given a certain temperament. But how does a mystery reveal itself? 
In extravagant and sentimental intimations, I believe: thick pasty 
blues, sunsets like gore, always a heavy emphasis and insistence. A 
lake is another matter. When you stand by the Lakeshore you can't 
see the other side, but you know it's there: the lake is a real body, 
enclosed, firm, palpable, beautiful, revealing herself continually in 
new subtleties; lights and shadows, pastels, running wavelets, 
storms, smiles and despairs; sometimes all these together at once; 
changeable, various; manifold. Chicago is ugly and often mean, like 
all lovers, but this mistress has the real womanly greatness which 
accepts and dispels everything. It's a greatness which resists all 
efforts of simplification. Think of that. If the men of the Mediter- 
ranean had lived beside lakes rather than by the sea, they would not 
have left us all this useless wreckage of oversimplifications to regu- 
late the world. 

Fresh water, not salt. Neither the gray salt of the granitic rollers, 
nor green salt of algid wastes, nor blue salt of oily equatorial pullu- 
lations. Fresh water contains a thousand smaller lights, every tone 
and demitint. Would you wash your eyes with brine? 

Appearances: 

A. April; morning; ten o'clock. Housecleaning time. From the 
parapet Alex and I watch the cleansing wind, the clouds torn and 
whisked away. A motley sky; ragged; patched with gold, white, 
gray, black, threads of green and purple; the blue flesh, elbows and 
knees, poking through. Alex is watching the water. "Look, the 
lake has even more color than the sky." 

"Perhaps because of the waves." 

10 



"Yes, so many surfaces; each second differently tilted, like little 
mirrors strung on a fishnet." 

"Not only reflections, however. Refractions to break and scatter 
the lights." 

Above each gem-cut wavelet is a whitecap, small and sharply 
white, dispersed; not ocean's stately combers, but runaway daisies 
fluttering pell-mell to Michigan; and the wind from the prairies and 
the great mountains a thousand miles away carries with it the 
freshness of newly turned loam. A multiety of color, not heavy, not 
drenching — no canvas smudged with oily hues; but clean, washed, 
translucent, quickly sketched. Alex points high over the lake's 
horizon. A straggle-tailed V of wild geese is moving northward. 
They have a long journey to go before they find the reedy bays 
where they may alight safely. Alex says nothing. 

B. In January the bitter night glides down from Manitoba and 
Hudson's Bay, silent, barbarous. The lakewater is almost still, 
rather stealthy and tentative . . . dark occasional whispers speaking 
to the ice-locked shore. The sun rises, long after the first eastern 
glow. Ribbons and patches of mist drift on the lake, lighting to 
rose and saffron and mallow in the dawn. Ice on the lower steps of 
the parapet burns briefly with running fire, and on the higher steps, 
rising nude from the ice-skirt, rime glistens. Aslant, an old piling 
has acquired fantastic shape from the drenchings in frozen spume; 
it is bulbous, fleshed in ripe swellings of icy tissue, a dead, brilliant, 
vulgar fungus blushing hugely in the sunrise. The shame of even 
simulated life in this interstellar emptiness, or so it seems. An inch 
above the horizon, the sun pales, the lake turns to bleached slate, 
and the cold breeze, miserable and dusty and very ancient, gnaws 
your neck with its rats' teeth. You snuffle and turn toward home. 
Little pains explode like Chinese crackers in the muscles of your 
calves when you stumble and hurry. A touch of chilblain, no doubt. 
Was it worth it, ten minutes of technicolor in exchange for all these 
frost-riven cells given to death? 

C. In November the black storms come to Lake Michigan. 
Shadowy snow and freezing sleet are hurled into the water like 
buckshot, striking in bursts of pellets, a fierce swish-swish. In the 

11 



hollows of the waves the water is purple, gleaming dully like slag 
from old iron-smelting furnaces. Above, the wave tops are ripped 
away, flung to the parapet, or even higher; sometimes whole waves 
leap up and over like terrified horses. They crash down on Lake- 
shore Drive, bodily. Policemen in clumsy rubber coats motion 
traffic toward the one lane still open. The police scuff their boots 
and hunch their shoulders against the shot-laden wind. Overhead, 
clouds crunch, scream, jostle, stumble, press — a southward-stream- 
ing herd: suddenly broken, and for three seconds a blinding sun- 
shaft cants through the smirch. Thor's javelin; the policemen 
shrivel in their Gothic hearts. This is the year's swift fall, a crash- 
ing end before winter drives the life of the city into its million lairs. 
November. Much is dead already, as a matter of fact. Lake-wrack 
tumbles lifelessly on the stone parapet: black sticks from the forests 
of Michigan, ship refuse, garbage, a dank-feathered gull, fish oozing 
their thin fish-blood, the curious straw and chaff that always appear 
on the edge of storm-driven water, a choked eel; everywhere the 
scum and froth of death; decay hastened in the splintering water; 
filth; the hard sleet and snow, rice of death, flung in a monstrous 
nuptial. 

Alex is impatient. "What in God's name do you want to look at 
this for? Come on, let's get some coffee." 

D. If you look at a topographical chart of North America, as I 
am at this moment, you see that the color green, signifying a low 
elevation, extends outward from Lake Michigan in all directions: 
easterly to the Catskills and Poconos; southerly to the delta; north- 
erly to the Canadian wastes, Hudson's Bay, and the islands of the 
ice-jammed Arctic; westerly to Cheyenne, Denver, the Black Hills 
and the peaks of Laramie and Big Horn. Chicago is a house whose 
front yard is the lake, clean and bright, the portal and the focus of 
family life; but the backyard and the side yards are the plains, un- 
protected, sweeping out to . . . to what? Chicagoans are as well 
schooled as most people and have studied their geography lessons 
in childhood, yet in their hearts they don't know what lies beyond: 
space, distance, the incredible vectors and tangents of the nebulae 
themselves. The places where the weather comes from. The winds 
pour in relentlessly, and their source, wherever it is, whatever it is, 

12 



is never depleted. Sometimes the winds blow hot, sometimes they 
blow cold, and sometimes — quite often in fact — they blow both 
together, especially during the evenings which succeed the warm 
afternoons of May. Which is, annually, perenially, a considerable 
inconvenience to the city's fishermen. 

No, not to those whom the old man — pace, Papa — would have 
recognized by that name: stalwarts, numb to the armpits, who fling 
themselves up icy headwaters for the sake of depositing in a par- 
ticular dark pool a particular bright fly. The fishermen of Chicago 
are another breed. They fish at night from the steps of the parapet, 
and their manner of fishing is this: strong cord, not too thick, is 
weighted with iron pipe at both ends, one end being placed on the 
parapet, the other flung into the lake; a forked stick is then erected 
on the parapet and the cord is strung through the fork, so that the 
cord runs on a taut incline from the fork to the iron pipe on the 
lake bottom; then the main fishing-line, by means of small brass 
rings, is threaded along the inclined cord, while from this main line 
hang four or five shorter lines, hooked and baited with minnows; 
finally, at the landward end of the main fishing line is attached a 
small brass bell which will tinkle when a fish is hooked, telling the 
fisherman he must draw in his line, remove the fish, rebait the 
hook, and permit the line to slide downward again into the black 
water. 

But, as I say, the weather is changeable. An evening which be- 
gins in warmth may decline quickly into chill. The fisherman, in 
order to keep himself warm, brings a blanket to spread across his 
knees while he sits on the stone step and waits for his bell to tinkle, 
and he builds a little fire at his feet out of drift-sticks and fragments 
of orange crate; then, in order to keep himself cool, he also brings 
a bucket of ice containing cans of beer. There he sits; wrapped in 
his blanket, his pipe smoldering, his fire wavering in the night air, 
his beer can resting handily on the stone beside him; and as often 
as not his wife beside him too, sharing his blanket, his beer, and 
sometimes his pipe; old couples, stumpy-handed, ravaged of coun- 
tenance, patient and serious; seldom loquacious, content with a 
gutteral phrase of the comfortable Plattdeutsch or Lettish or 
Croatian, or whatever it may be — Gaelic was common not so long 
ago — to tell their thoughts. Hundreds of couples, perhaps thousands 

13 



on a Friday night, are sitting a few yards apart along the parapet, 
their fires extending like lanterns for miles down the Lakeshore; 
and the tinkling of the fishing bells makes a delicate treble against 
the mumble of the small tide nudging the stone. But perhaps the 
tinkling of a bell only means that a fisherman has pulled in his 
line to see if the bait is still there. 

They catch perch and white bass mostly, I guess, usually quite 
small. Sometimes a lucky fisherman hooks a whitefish, a fat two- 
footer, and then everyone comes to look at it, standing to admire 
and gossip awhile before drifting back to their own firelit posts. 

At ten o'clock, or ten-thirty if the night is fine, there is a general 
tinkling of bells and stirring about as the fishlines are dismantled. 
The couples trudge home, carrying their tackle and their beer 
buckets (now turned into aquaria for the still living victims of the 
evening's sport), back across the passenger bridge over the Drive, 
into the city, dispersing like autumn leaves in a forest; each to his 
incogitable street and number. And I have no doubt all those fish 
are scraped, gutted, cooked, eaten, digested; thus becoming, in 
transitu, cells of human flesh, particles in the mass. Cats get the 
heads. 

E. Alex: "What'll you have?" 

"Salt," I say. 

"Here. Don't spill it." 

I open the matchbox which holds the salt, and sprinkle a pinch 
on a slice of roast beef, coral pink, as thin and limp as kidskin. 
Should have told the delicatessen man to slice it thicker. I put on 
another piece of beef, then the top slice of bread to make my 
sandwich. 

Alex: "Hell of a fine day for a picnic." 

"Ummmm." 

"Won't be many more. End of September already. And the sky 
looks like October, really. You know? Not a cloud. And so deep 
and blue — cerulean." 

"Don't use that word." 

"Why not?" 

"If you saw a whole sky of cerulean you'd be scared out of your 
wits. Too brilliant." 

14 



"What should I say then?" 

"Dresden maybe. Just say blue." 

"All right, it's blue. But the way it arches at this time of year, 
higher and deeper — I never remember from one year to the next, 
it's always a surprise. You can almost look through the sky, like 
looking through a sapphire. Or maybe it's the opposite — the color 
comes down somewhat, inside of you." 

"Ummmmm." 

"And the lake catches it, and the whole thing goes round. Sky 
and water, all blue, a perfect globe. And you're on the inside — like 
the little man in the glass ball." 

"Where's the beer-can opener?" 

"In that bag with the potato salad, I think. Why don't we go 
sailing sometime? I've never been out. See that one, a little off 
there — no, to the left — a little triangle on the horizon?" 

"Scalene." 

"What?" 

"Scalene triangle." 

" — to you." With gestures. 

F. In Indiana are the Dunes. Students of geology come from 
great distances to look at them. I wouldn't go that far myself, but 
let each rejoice in his own folly, I say. For a very long time, you 
see, the prevailing winds have been northwest to southeast, driving 
the waters of Lake Michigan down toward the Indiana-Michigan 
shore, and in consequence that part of the shore is the only part 
which is naturally sandy. The Dunes, large hillocks of this sand, 
reach inland, at some places, as far as five miles, and must originally 
have resembled a desert; but tough weeds and hardy grasses have 
taken hold there now, along with homely scrub pines and cedars, so 
that the primeval and austere beauty of the Dunes is covered. The 
process was speeded somewhat, as a matter of fact, by people who 
came in the last century to build summer homes there and planted 
desert grass on the sand to keep it from shifting. Some of the dunes 
are a hundred feet high, the highest elevations in that level coun- 
try, and if you stand on the top of one of them and look across the 
lake you can see a good distance, even to Chicago fifty miles away. 
When was the last time you heard of anything happening in 

15 



horizon like golden jackstraws. Or like a filigree of enchanted 
castles. It's the city all right, you know that — bleeding chrome and 
glass and stone, filth and rancor and pollution. 

Sometimes on hot August afternoons thunderstorms blow down 
from Wisconsin, driving fast under tall thunderheads. You are 
standing on a dune, looking toward Chicago. You see the storm 
coming, a high cloud, black beneath but swirling like cotton above, 
bubbling and mushrooming. All the rest of the sky in every direc- 
tion is hot and blue and still, like a Venetian sky in a painting by 
Tiepolo. When the storm is directly over the city, you see the 
drama distinctly, as if through the wrong end of a pair of binocu- 
lars: the miniscule cloud writhing, the darkness beneath, the tiny 
sparks leaping to the matchstick buildings. It is fury reduced to the 
scale of the ants and weevils. You say to yourself: Aha, you 
bastards, you re getting it now, aren't you, and I hope you get it 
good and hard, 1 hope you're all blown to hell, you scummy bums, 
and wouldn't that be fine? Twenty minutes later the storm has 
reached Indiana, and you are crouched indoors, if you have a house 
to go into, with your own heart hammering in your ears. 

G. Solstice is a lovely word, full of mankind's slowly gathered 
feelings and speculations. It means the time when the sun, sol, 
stands still, sistere. This is no jargon of meteorology, with its 
balloons and rockets and hairspring contraptions, but a word from 
the time when each man was his own weatherman and knew from 
his own observations at dawn and dusk the precise times of the 
year when the sun rose and set at the same places on his little 
horizon. I think that although sistere comes from the root which 
means standing still, actually it meant more than this as it grew 
over the centuries in countrymen's minds: it meant peace, quiet, 
contentment. As in armistice, the time when the weapons stand 
still. 

The summer solstice, when the sun is with us and earth pays us 
homage in greenery and blossom — this at least is a time of content- 
ment. Don't we pray for it? The lake is blue, no pasty Caribbean 
cobalt but the blue of a Swedish girl's eyes, lucid and immaculate. 
Puffs of cumulo-stratus, the snail cloud, proceed unhurriedly and in 
irregular groups down the horizon, like families going to church. 

16 



The beach is dense with bathers, more are coming over the foot- 
bridge that crosses the Drive. Traffic whines on the Drive, two or 
three airplanes drone overhead. Naturally one looks at the young 
girls, bodies flushed with sex, brimming from tight suits at breast 
and buttock. Just as naturally, one looks at the old ladies, their 
squalor and desuetude — is it animate, that heap of toneless flesh, 
does blood flow in all those mounds and subsidences, or is it refuse 
the owner has forgotten to discard? A tumulus; a barrow. Watch 
where you step: it is easy to put your bare foot down on a beer-can 
opener or a burning cigarette. . . . 

One lifts one's eyes. On the thin line of the horizon move ore 
boats, a long way out, in slow procession; each with a plume raised 
from its single funnel, set far aft. In the mid-distance are sailboats 
— catboats mostly, sometimes a ketch or a larger vessel — and the 
motor launches of the wealthy. Near shore buzz the speedboats, 
cutting as close to the bathers as the pilots dare; and the beach- 
squatters hem and harrumph. . . . 

What contentment, then, amid such activity? I don't know. 
Babies squawl, adolescents race and wrestle, old women babble. 
Afterward you wonder. But on the beach a matrix of sun and 
water envelops the afternoon in serenity. Yes, even your own easily 
unbalanced moodiness. 

Eventually it is time for supper. Many people go home. Many 
others come, bringing hampers and thermos jugs. The footbridge 
over the Drive becomes a seat of contest, since its designer did not 
foresee such a traffic of Horatios battling in both directions, bur- 
dened with blankets, bundles, baskets, babies; while the cars whine 
underneath. 

Toward ten o'clock the moon rises, close above the horizon. 
Color of Smyrna tile. The moonlight skips on the crests of wave- 
lets, coming toward the shore on a broadening track of orange 
tracery. This is the lake's only lapse into sentimentality, as I point 
out to Alex. "You are not old enough," I say, "to remember the 
third-rate dance bands of 1927. They always had a scene painted 
on the face of the bass drum, and nine times out of ten it was a 
lake with a track of moonlight running across it, and of course a 
young couple in a canoe." "You aren't old enough to remember 
yourself," Alex says. "Just barely," I answer. From the parapet on 

17 



the Promontory at 55th Street, one looks across the water toward 
the Loop, and the lights from the tall buildings glimmer in the 
lake. A crisper light than the moonlight. It is good to let one's 
feet hang over the edge of the bottom step, just touching the 
surface of the water as it rises and falls. It is also good to drink 
beer or, if one has had foresight, chilled hock. 

Much later — long after midnight — the voices are gone, the moon 
is pale in the west, the remaining light is dim starshine. The ripples 
accost the stone like the greetings of old maids, and recede shyly. 
In the gray light the rats come out on the parapet and play. When 
you are standing at the front window of your third-floor apartment 
on a late afternoon in winter, and you see a gray rat slink down the 
gutter of the street and turn into the areaway of your apartment 
house, as if he were any other tenant coming home from a day's 
work, your attitude toward rats — gray city rats — is cold and friend- 
less, and the words "bubonic plague" switch on like a neon sign in 
your brain. But on a warm summer night in starshine the playing 
rats, scarcely distinguishable, seem not unamiable sharers of the 
stone. Perhaps they aren't playing. In fact, I expect that rats, being 
irredeemably rats, don't play and don't know how to play, they are 
just scurrying around on the stone to scrounge a few fishheads or 
picnic remnants. Sometimes they squeak, like dolls. But every- 
thing else is quiet: rats' feet scurrying, ripples rippling, occasional 
late cars whining on the Drive. The city seems almost undone, as 
if an angry goddess had put all but a few chosen acolytes into a 
dreamless sleep; while the rats and the water do their work. One 
such night, in the darkness under a branching spirea bush, Alex and 
I made love on the grass, rats and all. 



18 



CHAPTER 3 



You should see yourselves. Lips blanched like a halibut's, eyes 
bruised and frosty as scuppernongs left too long on the vine. Well, 
I'm sorry. I didn't realize what a blast that sentence might be until 
Fd already written it, and then I decided to let it stand. You see, 
Alex is short for Alethea, and there's nothing to fear. To me, Alex 
signifies something so essentially, hotly, completely female that for 
a moment it simply didn't occur to me you might take it to mean 
anything else. 

Still, I might have intended it — that dirty trick, I mean. It is a 
legitimate device, and has been used often enough by other writers. 
Anything is legitimate, isn't it? — that's the art of writing: the dirty 
trick played on the reader, the practical joke, the illusion of reality. 
Or the illusion of unreality. And the secret of all esthetic theory, it 
seems to me, is precisely that you, my friends, like it; you adore the 
dirty trick, you come back to it again and again. Why? It's so plain 
that one wonders how it can have been the object of learned con- 
fusion for three thousand years. You like the practical joke of art 
because it gives you pleasure, while the practical joke of life gives 
you . . . well, boredom most of the time, I suppose, but now and 
then a pretty effectual kidney punch for most of us. Hence the 
continuous effort to escape from life into art; but it can't be done 
— can't be done because life and art are the same thing. Just as 
pain and pleasure are the same thing. How can pleasure and pain 
be the same, you ask, when they are opposite extremes? Because 
each contains the other in principle, like a pair of old-fashioned 
pince-nez that fold together: each always folds into the other. 

19 



Moreover, no one knows for certain which is which; and although 
you may find several people who agree that a pain is a pain, you 
can certainly always find several more who will say that it is a 
pleasure. Just so with life and art: extremes, each containing the 
other, controvertible. Perhaps it is best to abandon the pain- 
pleasure-life-art principle entirely, the search will only lead you 
into a shifting, unreliable countryside where no landmark can be 
found again. Instead we must look for something else. What shall 
it be? What shall we agree on? Not Truth, certainly — a grandiose 
idea, okay for the old-timers, but we are more realistic. Maybe, 
even so, we can find one or two true things upon which to peg our 
feelings. 

Is it possible? For that matter, is it necessary? What's the good 
of it? Why should we trouble ourselves? . . . Out of a sense of duty? 
Odious concept! Duty to God, duty to society, duty to family, 
duty to oneself — how they have rung the changes on that old piece 
of wormwood. 

But I might do it for love. 

At any rate, I won't put down anything on these pages that isn't 
true. I couldn't, in fact — because I haven't the faintest idea how to 
invent a fiction. 



20 



CHAPTER 4 



Without doubt a proper author would have begun with Alex on 
the first page. Perhaps in some such terms as these: the first time I 
made love to Alex was more or less like this, etc., etc. But do you 
see? — already these few words are meaningless, turning themselves 
into abstractions. You had to know something about me before the 
words could even be spoken, and now you must know something 
about Alex before they can be intelligible; if I reversed the order it 
would be simply that — a reversal, an evasion, a trick, and an un- 
truth. 

I shall say something about the woman herself. The word is 
important: woman, not girl or lady. Nor broad, pig, tomato, etc., 
though she was all these things too. I think she was born a woman 
perhaps, her first cry, as she pushed her way from the womb's 
darkness, already a proclamation of her sex and of sex in general. 
Shortly afterward, at any rate, she was named Alethea, her mother's 
name before her, chosen by her grandmother from one of Push- 
kin's stories. Once when I asked Alex if she had read the story in 
question, she replied that she had never looked for it and didn't 
know its title. All she knew was that it was a horrible name, even 
her parents found it gauche, and soon everyone took to calling her 
what she herself, as soon as she could talk, declared her name to 
be — Alex. It stuck. Later, when she was in high school and became 
embarrassed at having a boy's name, she changed the spelling to 
Alix, even for a while to Alics; but the embarrassment passed; and 
eventually, when she learned that her name had become, like her 
body, an indelible aspect of her personality, hers alone, she was 

21 



quite pleased with it. Alex was never known not to be pleased with 
anything she was or did — after she was about seventeen. 

She was Jewish; that is to say, half Jewish, her father, Herman 
Silvers tine, having married a Polish girl in Prague in 1904; but a 
half is as good as a whole in Atlanta, Georgia, where Alex was 
born. She was the only child of parents who had given up hope of 
offspring, and made her entrance in 1926 on a surprising day in 
July. Surprising for Mr. Silverstine. First, he had not yet entirely 
acquitted himself of the disgruntlement which had grown, like the 
habit of chewing his mustache, during the twenty-one years of his 
doe-eyed, dun-haired, gaunt-sided wife's infertility. During her 
pregnancy, he had seen her belly grotesquely hunch and tighten 
in the horned scales of her pelvis; it looked as if she were carrying 
an apronful of stones, not a child. (I am imagining some of this, 
of course, though it is close to what Alex told me. She also said 
that her father loved her mother dearly, that her mother did in- 
deed look like a starveling, and that he made love to her pas- 
sionately "practically all the time.") When Mr. Silverstine saw 
that his wife's body had indeed produced a life, not a thud of 
falling stones, when he saw the infant's bland face ("My mother 
always told me I was born with a smooth skin, not all wrinkled up 
like most babies") and heard the indubitable protestations, his 
long-accumulated but scarcely recognized resentment of his wife's 
supposed barrenness exploded with, I imagine, a kind of soft in- 
ternal shock; he was, in spite of himself, surprised. Secondly, he 
had thought it was going to be a boy. Nevertheless, he rejoiced and 
he continued rejoicing. His business, a hardware store, prospered; 
he acquired a large bank account, at least in terms of his station in 
life; he opened two branch stores, he joined a club, he bought a 
house in a carefully landscaped colony north of the city, and he 
was just on the point of expanding his business by becoming a 
wholesaler when, six years after his daughter's birth, his fortunes 
were demolished in the middle of Peachtree Street by a taxicab 
with failing brakes. His face was removed by forty feet of abrasive 
concrete, and he entered the kingdom of heaven, two hours later, 
in a state of excruciating anonymity. 

His wife is living yet. 

Alex seldom spoke of her childhood or her family; what I have 

22 



put down here about her father is all that I know of him; and I 
know even less of her mother. When, after three years at the Uni- 
versity of Georgia, Alex decided she was not leading the life she 
wanted and in consequence set off on her own, she apparently broke 
with her mother. But no; I imagine that is putting it too strongly; 
there wasn't a break between them, so much as a mutual relinquish- 
ment, a letting go: very reasonable and fortunate in the circum- 
stances. When I knew her, Alex wrote to her mother five or six 
times a year, and I have no doubt her letters were warm and 
affectionate, but also, I suspect, vague, insubstantial, and devoid of 
real news. The mother, so far as I know, wasn't the least distressed, 
I never heard of any protests and I don't think that letters were any 
more frequent in one direction than in the other. You may ask 
how much was Alex's half-Jewishness responsible for this with- 
drawal from her family? I don't know. Her early years had of course 
been spent in a Jewish context; her father's club was a Jewish club, 
naturally; he couldn't have been admitted to any other; and the 
community in which he had bought his house was specifically a 
Jewish community. But he wasn't a religious man, I gather, nor 
was his wife a religious woman — in order to marry at all they 
couldn't have been. Their miscegenation brought them a certain 
degree of aspersion from the strict elements of the Jewish colony 
in Atlanta, but these strict elements were not strong. In the South, 
confronted with the continual spectacle of abomination heaped not 
upon them but upon others, the Jews forsake their own sectarian 
austerities, and live, like their Aryan and Negro fellows, in an 
atmosphere of careful easygoingness: I say careful because the 
limits are there, strict limits, though everyone keeps quiet about 
them most of the time. But it is well known that the transgressor, 
even the inadvertent transgressor, will be peremptorily and perhaps 
brutally reminded of them. 

After Mr. Silverstine died, Alex's mother continued to live in 
the house he had bought, and for a while kept her membership in 
his club, primarily for the sake of the playground and pony rides for 
members' children. Alex was a little Jew girl. Everyone believed 
this, and in time Alex grew up enough to believe it herself. In 
school her friends were both Jewish and Aryan, but mostly Jewish. 
There was never any trouble, not even inconvenience; yet she knew, 

23 



as she progressed through grade school and entered high school, 
that there were houses where she would not be admitted, hotels 
that would not serve her, beaches and playgrounds closed un- 
equivocably if irrationally to her emerging charms. When she 
reached the university and found that she was, by virtue of her 
surname and an inconspicuous initial entered in a square on her 
matriculation card, deprived of admittance to any but a Jewish 
sorority, her mind absorbed this indignity without any apparent 
disturbance: she signed up with the proper sorority and went 
through the rituals as if she had never desired anything else. I very 
much doubt that she ever had desired anything else, at least not in 
the active sense usually meant by the word. Alex's desires were 
powerful but personal; matters of blood and nerve, seldom matters 
of conscience. Nevertheless, in November of her senior year she 
celebrated her twenty-first birthday, and the next morning packed 
her bags and departed without saying so much as good-by to any- 
one at all. She went home, stayed two days — long enough to 
repack her luggage with a better feminine regard for method — and 
took the Pullman to Chicago with a new, blue-leatherette check- 
book in her purse, by means of which she intended to draw against 
the moderate but adequate inheritance left by her father; it was hers 
to use as she liked, now that she was twenty-one. Her reason for 
choosing Chicago instead of New York, where otherwise she would 
have preferred to go, was that she knew no one at all in Chicago, 
while New York, always a virtual Field of Mars for Atlanta, was 
full of people who would seek her out, give her advice, help her to 
find living quarters, and introduce her to other people — mostly 
other Atlantans. She wanted none of this. 

What was in her mind, that outrageous, outraging, but never 
outraged faculty? The question has been asked often enough; not, 
to be sure, about her reasons for leaving Georgia, but about later 
aspects of her behavior. Her reasons for leaving Georgia are prob- 
ably not worth much inquiry. Most intelligent Georgians leave at 
one time or another, or at any rate hope to. Not that Alex was 
intelligent; sometimes I wondered if she had a mind at all, at least 
in the ordinary sense; but that was absurd, because I couldn't 
really say she was unintelligent either; for months during the 
period when I knew her I simply couldn't see whether she was 

24 



intelligent or not, and it wasn't for lack of trying. Sometimes she 
could astonish us all, at a party or when we were sitting around in 
somebody's apartment. She would say: "It's always better to get 
your philosophy at second hand, that's why Thais was a better 
Aristotelian than Alexander." Or: "I knew a prodigal son who 
went to the psychoanalyst to be cured, but at the end of two years 
his father quit paying the fee." As a matter of fact, Alex could 
manage well enough at the South Side cocktail parties where the 
bright young men held forth. She didn't contribute anything, of 
course, except her disquieting substance; but she had the knack of 
introducing remarks so pointedly enigmatic, so mockingly con- 
descending, that the bright young men must have all gone home 
feeling that she despised them utterly; which she did. 

It was a knack only, nothing more. No doubt Alex left home 
for the usual reasons — boredom, hostility, spirit of adventure — plus 
in her case a desire to escape her half-Jewishness; but the important 
point is that all these motives were totally unrealized within her. 
Alex moved as an animal moves, in response to whatever winds 
touched her skin, whatever fragrances touched her nostrils; drawn 
always by the unrecognized stimulus; drawn, I might add, in a 
movement whose languidness was equaled only by its determina- 
tion. If her Jewishness troubled her, she never showed it to me. In 
fact, I wonder why I have been making such a point of it here. 
When I knew her and was with her, I never thought of it. But in 
looking back I think I can see that when she arrived in Chicago 
she advanced instinctually upon that part of the city and that ele- 
ment of the population in which her Jewishness, or anyone's, would 
be of no meaning whatever; I mean the half-arty, half-academic, 
wholly unconstrained neighborhood of the university on the South 
Side; and beyond that she simply avoided, effortlessly, the places 
where her race could cause her the slightest inconvenience. But she 
did nothing dramatic — she might have changed her name, for 
instance, but she didn't. Alex Silverstine never did anything dra- 
matic; or rather she constantly did dramatic things in a way which 
made them seem uncalculated and commonplace. 

In her Pullman room, Alex slept. The train grumbled up the 
mountain, clacked down the other side, burst with Vulcanian 
splendor across the river, forged at last in sedulous concentration 

25 



across the colloidal damps of Indiana. Alex slept, I imagine, as she 
always slept; deeply, strongly, aggressively; drinking her sleep, eat- 
ing it, battening on it, serving it as if it were a lust continually 
satisfying and renewing itself; she engaged sleep as a naiad engages 
the stream into which she leaps. Consequently, it isn't surprising 
that she snored. 



26 



CHAPTER 5 



Hemlocks define this valley like a Greek choros, men on one 
side, women on the other; silent now, bowed, arms folded, dark. 
At the back the sun is going down, incarnadine — an amateurishly 
painted backdrop. In the center an apple tree appears, subsiding 
from the day's agony; her intricate shadow lengthens, her boughs 
are already heavy with leafage and the young fruit. It is quiet 
everywhere. The drama is ending; but the final moment is in some 
respects the most moving, as in all dramas of gender. 

Gender is a better word than sex; more restful, more expressive, 
and ultimately more meaningful. A famous man once remarked 
that there is between a man and a woman the difference of 
plumbing — so great and so little. Gender gives us this meaning 
almost perfectly, being related to both genital and engine; whereas 
sex, coming from the word which means to divide or cut, is an 
ugly, brutal, destructive term. Gender is related to other fine words 
too, such as ingenuity, gentle, genial, genius, generous, genuine — 
some of our most beautiful words — and of course also genesis and 
generation. Notice how the words fall into two groups, those having 
to do with generation and those having to do with thought, the 
indispensable reciprocity of skull and pelvis upon which all our art 
and philosophy and understanding rest. Perhaps the real tragedy 
of our civilization arose in the contest of meanings when gender 
was displaced by sex. 



11 



CHAPTER 6 



Later; a good deal later; middle of August. I've been put off by 
one thing and another, and my progress is shamefully slow. One 
distraction was the damage done to the garage when lightning 
struck last week. The storm had risen in the Adirondacks, and 
came blasting across to us with wind, rain, hail, lightning; it dived 
on us like a locust swarm. The bolt struck the cupola, which was 
a fake cupola anyway, flimsily put together long ago to suit the 
unknown builder's fancy; I found some splintered parts of it a 
hundred feet away in the meadow, where they had been hurled by 
the lightning's force. The roof was damaged too, a couple of rafters 
split and the shingles torn up. The unknown builder had made a 
pigeon cote up there in the space under the roof, complete with 
little arched portals at either end for the pigeons to use in their 
coming and going; but since I've never seen a pigeon in this region, 
I thought the pigeon cote was another piece of fakery. I opened the 
hatch in the garage ceiling and climbed up to inspect the damage. 
I found that my supposition was wrong, the pigeon cote had 
actually been used, though it must have been years ago. The dust 
was an inch thick or more. Pigeon droppings were thick too, shiny 
and smooth like old paint. The dust was gray, that mysterious silt 
which drifts and settles in closed recesses, and at first I didn't 
notice the skeletons; but when I saw them they were unmistakable 
— fragile and intent like Chinese calligraphy in the dust. The 
snake's vertebrae formed the most delicately carved necklace you 
can imagine, with tiny ribs like filaments of Venetian glass. The 
pigeon skeletons, ten or twelve, mostly adult but a few smaller, lay 

28 



in scattered attitudes, breasts broken and wings turned under, their 
little skulls as thin as old silver thimbles. How the snake had 
managed to climb into the cote I have no idea, but clearly he had 
encountered more than he expected. The pigeons, more accurately 
called doves, had finished him off, though they lost some of their 
own number in the fray. It was no doubt a furious battle, but per- 
haps strangely silent; no need to sound an alarm at that point; 
feathers whirled in the dim light, a violence of wings flogged the 
hot air, the serpent coiled and spun; a cataclysm in a hot world, up 
under the rafters. Did the owner climb up to see what had hap- 
pened and then, finding the havoc, shut up the cote forever, the 
owner who had brought the pigeons there in the first place and in 
consequence the snake as well? Or had he perhaps moved away 
some time before? 

At any rate, it took me most of a week to see that the damage 
done by the lightning's revealing stroke was repaired and the cote 
sealed up once more. 



29 



CHAPTER 7 



The day in question, the day I set out to record some pages back, 
was one which some authors of the older and more radical genera- 
tion would have arrayed in sonorous monumentally or, by opposi- 
tion, in ironic triviality; and I can myself easily imagine the events 
of that day falling into either pattern, given an author with the 
imaginative force to exert such a degree of control over his mate- 
rials. I lack it, at least in respect to this particular day. It remains 
in my memory with a clarity and individuality which renders it 
virtually autonomous, exempt from my creative authority. Simple 
veracity is all I can hope for. Which is perhaps enough: this day, 
like all days, was autonomous, unique, and what could be more 
interesting than its simple history? It's a point I wish to hold to, 
the uniqueness of days within their multiplicity. 

Hence the universe was, on that particular day, in a condition 
never known before and never to be duplicated again. Do I under- 
stand the universe rightly? It's exploding, isn't it? — that's the 
current belief? — stars and nebulae flying apart at a rate of thousands 
of miles per hour? A frightening thought; yet no more frightening, 
perhaps, than the bygone accounts of astrologers, now fallen into 
ill repute. Here also I am ignorant. I have no idea what scandalous 
conjunctions and domiciliations may have been occurring among 
the celestial folk in midsummer 1951, but something must have 
been afoot. , . . One decade ago, no more than that, and perhaps 
to the very day. This is a frightening possibility too, though I 
don't see precisely why. Here in my hemlock-lined valley on a 
mid-August day in 1961 I am safely removed, you might think, 

30 



from the time and place of that other August day ten years ago at 
Lake Jones. 

A well-named lake, believe me. At least if you grant that Jones, 
while respectable enough, is undistinguished. Inigo, John Paul, 
Bobby, Philly Joe — that's about it as far as the Jonses are con- 
cerned. Well, there was an emperor too, wasn't there? — so perhaps 
I shouldn't be hasty. At any rate, Lake Jones lies twenty miles, 
more or less, over the Michigan line when you drive eastward 
from Chicago around the bottom of Lake Michigan. It is one of 
the many small lakes that lie close around the Great Lakes like 
boulders fallen from a cliff. Their main attraction is that so many 
people vacation on the shore of the big lake that few have dis- 
covered the little ones. Lake Michigan occupies 22,400 square miles 
of the earth's surface; Lake Jones occupies about four acres. A 
modest lake. Longer than it is wide, extending north-south in a 
kidney shape, the farther convex shoreline giving way to reedy 
marshes and meadowland while the nearer concave shoreline rises 
among large pines whose roots twist along the surface of the bare 
ground; bare, that is, except for a covering of thick, slimpsy pine 
needles. What with the pine needles and the exposed pine roots, 
it's worth your life to walk up that slope after dark — on your way 
to the outhouse — and the chances are you will stumble and skid 
and fall and spend half an hour hunting for your flashlight — which 
always goes out when it drops — while the blood worms viscously 
down your shin like primeval ooze and coagulates in your sneaker. 
Above the slope the trees thicken into a wood that extends about 
two miles and conceals Lake Jones from the main highway; the 
pines give way to beeches, ash, thickets of hawthorn, a good deal 
of underbrush, cut by paths and opened here and there by small 
grassy clearings. Through the wood runs a road — two ruts with 
grass between — from the main highway to the north end of the 
lake, and along the slope, under the pines, is a scattering of 
"cottages," really no more than shacks: four-room, weathered 
matchboard houses on stilts, with porches and steps in front, and of 
course outhouses in the rear. Matchboard lichened and warped; 
windows lopsided; screening rusty, broken; one naked electric bulb 
hanging from the ceiling in each room; rusty rectangular iron sink 
in the kitchen; water from a hand pump at one end of the sink; 

31 



kerosene stove for cooking, with wicks burned down unevenly. 
What can one expect for $200 the "season"? Even so, three or four 
of these cottages were occupied all summer by retired couples who 
cleaned them, mended them, painted them, and in fact made them 
almost presentable. Ours, used only on eight or ten weekends, re- 
mained in its pristine degradation. The swimming was good (except 
for the leeches) and a workable rowboat went with the cottage, so 
it wasn't bad for people who simply wanted to loaf and wear dirty 
clothes and drink beer and read; who wanted, in other words, to 
escape Chicago's unbearable summer heat by going completely to 
pieces for a few days. Which is what we did. 

No, I'm wrong, Alex didn't wear dirty clothes; she was usually 
rather spiffy, in fact; and damned well ought to have been, since 
you could have laundered her entire weekend wardrobe in a tea- 
pot without any difficulty at all. 

And now I remember why I began my previous remarks about 
Alex by saying that she was half-Jewish. It has to do with her looks. 
Curious I should have forgotten to go ahead and say something 
about her appearance then. I suppose her physical presence is so 
much a part of my memory that I thought I was conveying an 
impression of her great magnificence to you merely by mentioning 
her name; whereas actually the name itself — four black marks on 
the page — still means almost nothing to you. . . . One doesn't need 
to be an anthroposomatologist to know that the most beautiful 
women are products of miscegenation. This is a universal belief 
and perfectly justified. Eurasian girls are exquisite. So are certain 
Latin-American mulatto types. In our own culture many of the 
national female sex personifications have been of mixed Jewish and 
Aryan strains: I think particularly of those who have retained 
undertones of Levantine softness and shadowing with a northern 
overlay of brightness, blondeness, and angularity. Alex belonged to 
the suborder Fair, but was in no sense Nordic; she throve in 
summer — none of the flaking and bleaching and blotching which 
calls attention to the delaminated Anglo-Saxon in July. She was a 
good tennis player, when she wanted to be. Her skin gave the effect 
of deep light, as from the bottom of a glass of Rhenish wine. It 
gave off many lights, many colors; but not harshly — deeply and 
warmly like gold darkened with age. You could find a spectrum in 

32 



her presence: the purple shadow under her anklebone, the tender 
white, like fish meat, at the back of her knee, the claret flush, very 
faint, of her cheek, the deeper pink, though lucent, of her lips and 
nipples, the papyrus of her soles, the lavender vein in her groin 
running into pubic hair the color of beach sand that was wet and 
is now beginning to dry, the russet of eyebrows, the cream of 
abdomen, the tanbark of sunburned shoulders fading to honey- 
colored arms and hands. Her hair was the shade of tufa stone or 
pine wood, yellow with lighter and darker strains, and it was 
ringleted like a Bedlington's coat; she wore it short, cut close to the 
skull. Her eyes were light gray and the pupils were too small; her 
eyes could scare you half out of your wits if you looked into them 
too long, they were so blank. 

Coloration appeals to taste. Blondes are preferred only by some 
gentlemen, as a matter of fact. But the torso is a subject for general 
agreement, and moreover, as the Orissan sculptors knew well, is the 
chief feminine ornament. Here is Alex from collarbone to kneecap. 
Full breasts, rounded, firm, not pointed, sloping smoothly over the 
glands of the upper chest, rounding snugly into the midriff; slight 
suggestion of ribs; blonde down, unseen except in slanted light, 
curving toward the deep navel; pelvis somewhat small; abdomen 
nearly flat; buttocks with a modest flare; long thighs with a soft 
inner part that flexed marvelously as she walked toward you. She 
was young, strong, slender but not thin; not hungry-looking like the 
women in fashion advertisements. 

What the hell? — the ordinary Hollywood type, the sexpot. 
Granted, but don't make the mistake of thinking Hollywood in- 
vented the type, or has given it more prominence than it might 
have or ought to have. Look at the Konarak temple statuary, or the 
traditional Tarot pack, or for that matter Aphrodite of the classic 
period, though the Greeks (or their Roman copiers) took the life 
out of the stone. The type of perfection in the female principle, no 
more, no less; and deviations from it have been either decadent 
(stereotypes) or sentimental (spiritualizations). Whatever Holly- 
wood has done wrong — plenty, God knows — it has at least pre- 
served the genuine, natural image, which no degree of paint and 
technicolor can disguise, and in an age which has few other images 
either genuine or natural this is something to be thankful for. 

33 



The flesh of Alex — her impressionable part, so to speak — was 
Jewish, an olive-golden, eastern mode of being; but in her skeleton 
she was pure Slav: a thin nose with a precisely modeled bridge, eye 
sockets deep and large and wide, prominent cheekbones with hol- 
lows beneath, a strong jaw line and small teeth, though her mouth 
was rather large and her lips were full. 

There are, praise the gods, enough such women in the world to 
permit every man to see one from time to time. On an unknown 
street in an unknown town — or better yet, on a known street in 
your own city — you look up and one is coming toward you. It's 
frightening and at the same time painfully exciting, frightening 
because it's exciting: like watching one of the big cars come off the 
straight a tenth of a mile per hour too fast. You can imagine how 
the ancients felt in the presence of the goddess, you can imagine 
why Actaeon had no choice but to look at Diana in her bath. As for 
me, not only have I seen such a creature, I have known her. 

Saturday afternoon, then. About two o'clock, the long hot hour 
after lunch — and that weekend the dog days were being as doggish 
as I've ever known. Damp, suffocating air clung to everything, even 
to the gray surface of Lake Jones, where the atmosphere lay in 
tangles like a broken cobweb. I was on the cottage porch, tilted 
back in an old, half-broken, cane-bottomed chair, my feet on the 
railing; I was reading a book by John Dickson Carr. The sweat 
drained down my spine where my T-shirt was pulled out of my 
pants by the way I had slid forward in the chair. Alex was sitting 
on an overturned beer case that we used for a hassock in front of 
the sofa which slumped, wounded and petulant, against the rear 
wall of the porch. We were alone. The beer case was low, she sat 
with her knees sharply raised, her elbows resting on them, her chin 
thrust despondently into her palms. She held a cigarette in her 
right hand, and the smoke rose above her head, coiling greasily in 
the heat. From time to time she tapped off the ashes with her fore- 
finger in a gesture of controlled asperity. She wore tennis shoes, 
newly white, very short green shorts that creased the top of her 
brown thighs, and a white halter tied behind her neck. The sweat 
on my forehead coagulated in my (somewhat ample) eyebrows and 
fogged my glasses; I took them off, and then, after a moment, 
reached back and placed the book and the glasses on the sofa. Alex 

34 



very carefully dropped the butt of her cigarette through the neck 
of an empty beer bottle, and it hissed in the dregs. Out of sight, at 
the other end of the lake, children shouted and oarlocks creaked. 
No other sound; not a stirring anywhere. I tipped my chair forward, 
letting it thud to the floor, and got up, and then went and stood 
behind Alex — I don't know why, I guess I had it in mind to say 
something; but there was nothing to say. I looked down at the top 
of her head, noticing how the hair curled loosely away from the 
part. When I said nothing, she tilted her head back and looked up 
at me, upside-down. I could see past her face into the opening of 
her halter, the softness there deepening into shadow, and I could 
see the distention of her nipples against the white cloth. (It is all 
perfectly vivid in my mind.) I leaned forward, lowering my hands 
over her shoulders, crossing them beneath her throat, cupping her 
breasts in my palms; I pulled her gently back against my belly. 

Alex lowered her head, placed her hands over mine, and hugged. 
N.B.: a curious embrace; she was hugging herself, yet I was closely 
caught into it. 

I felt myself losing my balance, however, and straightened sud- 
denly, steadying myself for an instant with my hand on her 
shoulder, wondering at the same time what I should do next; but 
I had no chance to be apprehensive. She turned and put her arms 
around my thigh, laying her cheek against my side, and with her 
hand she began to stroke me. It was damned near more than I 
could stand. ... I shivered. Alex held me tighter, and the tremor 
passed. My hand was still resting on her shoulder, sticky with sweat, 
hers and mine. Half unconsciously — 99 percent of my being was 
caught in her blazing touch — it (my hand) moved toward the 
cloth tied at the back of her neck; but she reached over her 
shoulder and intercepted the movement. 

"No," she said. The first word either of us had spoken. 

Again a flicker of nerves made my hand tremble. And again Alex 
moved quickly. She stood up and walked down the steps and 
around the corner of the cottage. Not hurriedly: decisively. She 
could have been going away from me in order to be by herself — 
for that matter, she could have been heading for the outhouse— but 
I know these thoughts didn't occur to me then. I walked down the 

35 



steps too, somewhat gingerly, and turned, going around the oppo- 
site side of the cottage. 

The children's shouts and the squeak of oarlocks oozed through 
the heat that lay like a bandage over the lake. 

I met her in back, near the outhouse. She hadn't stopped walk- 
ing, but was going on ahead of me up the slope, stepping on the 
pine roots. I followed. She went into the woods, entering by a 
path between pine saplings where the branches were tangled in 
bindweed. She walked as if she knew exactly the place she wanted, 
and I wondered where it was. This was the beginning of my return 
to some semblance of higher consciousness, though still discon- 
nected; but now I felt the emergence, steadily stronger, of an 
objective self. I became capable of looking with detachment at my 
own actions. I was doing what I was doing, and at the same time I 
was observing what I was doing — two people, the wholly sensate, 
compelled creature of sexuality, and the detached mind, observant, 
even faintly amused, but without any capacity to interfere. A long 
rough-edged blade from some tall weed cut my forehead. I believe 
this schizoid effect, the distinct separation of the feeling and 
thinking centers, is characteristic of men's response to extremely 
unusual situations. In modern warfare, where instantaneous and 
unseen annihilation surrounds the body, the mind detaches itself, 
departs elsewhere, sits and observes, watches the foolish body 
crawling through mud and bullet-riddled air; observes dispas- 
sionately, casually, remotely, in complete abrogation of its re- 
sponsibilities to the body, which continues to crawl forward through 
filth and peril. A horsefly began circling my head, then lit on my 
sweat-soaked shoulder and bit me through the T-shirt. The bastard. 
I rubbed away the sting. My distant observer chuckled. 

That damned oarlock still rasped like a fly too, a peevish fly, 
through the dense afternoon. 

The place Alex had in mind turned out to be a small clearing 
under a half-grown oak, screened around the edges by saplings, 
scrub pines, and weeds. The ground, which sloped upward toward 
the oak trunk, was bare between clumps of brown grass. Alex 
walked into the clearing, unbuckled her shorts, dropped them, 
kicked them aside almost viciously. The white skin, where her sun- 
burn had not reached, gleamed against the background of tree-bark 

36 



and dark foliage. When I came up to her, she reached her arms 
around my neck and shoulders and embraced me with surprising 
strength; she pushed her thigh between mine; she kissed me: long, 
hot, hungry, wet, ferocious, mobile, sweaty, abandoned. The com- 
bination of sweat and saliva was like blood. My hands pressed her 
into my body. She went down then, to the ground — not sinking, 
not sprawling, but lowering herself in slow balance, like a powerful 
dancer — and drew me after her. 

My talent for lyricism is weak and uncertain; but judging by 
what I've read I doubt that anyone's is great enough to make a 
useful representation in written language of the subjective aspects 
of sexual experience. Let the watcher in the treetops, or wherever 
he was, take over. 

We lay at full length on the ground, crushing the grass clumps 
under us; some of the blades tickled us through our sweat. There 
was a smell of dust. We kissed again, and a third time, I kissed her 
throat and breast and the hollow of her collarbone, where the per- 
spiration had collected. Sensations of haste then: urgency, awk- 
wardness; foolish clothes; the momentary shame men feel upon 
seeing their own nakedness exposed before the elegance and 
subtlety of a woman. We began. A bird rustled in nearby branches. 
... I hoped it was a bird. We were sweating rivulets now; torrents, 
cascades, niagaras. Our bodies slipped and smacked as if they were 
greased. The ground moved under my knees, crumbled ... so it 
seemed . . . and in fact our movements had carried us forward, 
Alex's head was pushed to one side by an oak root that thrust along 
the ground at the base of the tree; but she continued rocking her 
head from side to side. I lifted my chin, moved leftward, came down 
again on her other shoulder. On the end of a drooping blade of 
grass, not two inches from my nose, a green inchworm humped and 
flattened, humped and flattened, on his fatuous journey to nowhere. 
I closed my eyes. With her right hand Alex was beating my shoul- 
der, palm open; soft blows at first, then harder; her left hand 
pushed upward against my chest. I raised myself on straight arms, 
opened my eyes and looked at her, then lowered myself and kept 
going. Alex arched her back, threw up her chin, striking me on the 
forehead. I opened my mouth against her soaked flesh. Fury now; 
mounting; going up very fast. Pulsations quickening. And at last, 

37 



with every ounce of strength, the final surge. And — inevitably — the 
collapse. 

"God, it's over," Alex said. 

She was gasping, so was I, we were making movements of subsi- 
dence; the bird — if it was a bird — still rustled in the leaves, and we 
regained our breath gradually. Finally Alex sat up, cross-legged like 
an Indian, and looked down at me. She smiled, sweetly, and leaned 
down to kiss the back of my hand. She stretched, doubling her fists 
behind her ears, pushing her breasts tightly into the soaked and 
rumpled halter she still had on. Then she got up, brushed off her 
fanny, walked to her shorts and picked them up; she put them on 
with a certain effort of concentration, lifting her knees alternately 
to place her feet through the leg holes. 

"Lord, the heat!" I said, and thought to myself what an asinine 
thing to say. 

I got up too, and put on my clothes. We turned toward the edge 
of the clearing where the bent weeds showed our entrance, and as 
we were stepping through them we heard the Ford shift and turn 
off the highway into the back road toward the lake; it passed 
through the woods, fifty yards to our left. Impulsively we both ran 
a few steps; but then Alex stopped, turned to face me, and kissed 
me again, lightly, on the cheek. We walked slowly back through 
the woods, down the slope under the pines, around the cottage 
(which had no back door), and up the steps. Inside, Charley was 
hefting a new twenty-pound cake of ice into the old icebox, and 
eight dewy beer bottles and a head of lettuce lay on the floor at his 
feet. (The icebox was in the "living-room," I don't remember why.) 
There was a bag of groceries on the table, and a carton of warm 
beer. The ice fell into position with a thud, and Charley sat back, 
squatting on his heels. 

"Hi," he said, looking up. 

"Hello," Alex said. She rumpled his hair. "We took a walk." 

"So I see. Looks as if you've been mountain climbing." 

"We were running," I said. "We heard the car." I guess it 
sounded all right, though it wasn't much of an explanation. 

"We're bushed." Alex blew a drop of perspiration from the end 
of her nose. "Let's have a beer." 

38 



"Damn right," Charley said. "Going to get into my trunks first 
though. You open the beer." 

"Okay," Alex said, half under her breath. She could imitate 
perfectly the way people say inconsequential things when they're 
thinking of something else. (Or perhaps she really wasn't trying for 
an effect?) She reached for the bottle opener hanging on a nail I 
had driven into the side of the icebox, where it would be handy. 

Charley stood up and went through the kitchen to the bedroom. 
As you know, he was Alex's husband. 



39 



CHAPTER 8 



That's that. It wasn't easy, and I still make slow progress, far 
slower than I had expected. May I remind you — if you are out 
there at all, if you haven't been incinerated long since — that this is 
the summer of 1961? Troops are being mobilized; reinforcements 
have been dispatched to the Berlin garrisons. The Wall has been 
closed. And the lunatic element, the paramilitarists that we Ameri- 
cans never can get rid of entirely, are making louder and more 
vicious noises than I have heard before; even on the radio, which 
ought to be an instrument of the public trust, but obviously isn't. 
They cry for the bomb, they plead for the bomb — their voices, like 
those of all addicts, rasp with hysteria. It's not easy, I say, to write 
a novel . . . levon, that is . . . it's not easy to write anything when 
you are aware that before you have finished, long before your 
reader has looked at the product of your labor, you and the reader 
and the manuscript may be no more than a handful of cosmic dust. 
It's damnably hard, in fact, and all the more when you are writing 
about Alex. Let me say this: the episode just recounted was, what- 
ever its consequences and concomitances, its awkwardnesses and 
banalities, in itself good; the act was good; it was an act of love, 
literally, and I cannot regret it. Not in these times. If the bomb has 
not yet fallen, it may be because the event has been forestalled by 
just that little extra ounce of love and sanity buried in the world's 
history. Love. . . . There's no lust, I think; not among human 
beings, unless you count the unhappy ones we call defective. But 
those who can speak to one another — no, they have no lust, 
although in the vigor of their good years they may make love power- 

40 



fully. Because language is love; touch is love; being is love; every- 
thing and every thought is love; the whole ocean of existence in 
which the individual person swims onward from the moment of 
his conception, this is love. Oh, I'm not fool enough to deny that 
it is often enough corrupt and dirty, fouled beyond recognition by 
distortion and insanity; but have you noticed? — love is the one 
thing in the world which even those who have never known it 
themselves can always understand. It is our substance. The other 
feelings, those which are not love, have no meaning — no form or 
articulation — to the individual person; they come into being, like 
all epidemics, only in circumstances of overcrowding — then love 
falls out with itself, having too many referents. . . . Now, when the 
air itself drips with hatred, to write about love seems difficult and 
presumptuous; a labor too painful to be borne, and doomed, in any 
event, to futility; yet never have I been more aware of the need for 
it. Never have I been more aware of the need to make myself one 
person, one man, apart from destiny. 



41 



CHAPTER 9 



Those who wish to know who I am may look at the title page. 
I had considered the advisability of a pseudonym, but decided 
against it. For one thing, you have to go to such lengths of cir- 
cuitousness to make the thing stick that it scarcely seems worth the 
trouble; besides, the truth generally leaks out sooner or later any- 
way, mostly sooner. People who use pseudonyms aren't interested 
in being genuinely pseudononymous: they simply think a nom de 
plume will give them added distinction. Sometimes it works. As in 
the case of Le Comte de Lautreamont, whose real name was 
Isidore Ducasse; nobody ever mentions him without pointing out 
that he tried to disguise his origin with a phony title. Which is a 
kind of distinction, I dare say, though he was a good enough writer 
not to need it. If my name were Isidore I might hide it too. As it is, 
Fm well pleased with my name, a good Caledonian name. I like 
to think it goes back to the Pictish, that virtually unknown tongue 
in which God knows what fierce epics may have been composed; 
by all accounts they were, those people, a fine and fierce nation. 
But naturally I have no way of knowing. 

Appearance may mean something, however. At least my chromo- 
somes didn't come in with the Saxons or the Danes. Pure black 
Caledonian, such is my color: black hair, black beard, black brows, 
hooked nose, a body like a barrel. I've a pot now, but ten years ago 
I was flat-bellied: height 5' 10", weight 180. My lower eyelids are 
drawn down in such a way that the whites of my eyes are exposed 
all around the bottom, which lends a fierce and piratical appear- 
ance. Ugly as sin itself, of course; but I like it, probably because it 

42 



so clearly belies my nature. I am hopelessly mild-mannered. The 
only time in my life I got into a fistfight was in Rome during the 
war, when I was well crocked and took an awful beating from a 
paratrooper. I didn't know what to do with my hands, which seems 
odd — perhaps revealing — when you consider that I've spent a good 
deal of time punching the bag: that's what I like, whacking away 
at inanimate objects, punching the heavy bag or chopping wood. 
I'd be a great rock breaker on a chain gang. My looks have always 
been a source of comfort to me, and in the subway or on a bus all 
I need to do is look unsmilingly at somebody to see him (or her) 
turn pale. At one time I wore a long thin black mustache, but it 
was a nuisance and I shaved it off. 

I was and am — as I said at the beginning — a poet. Not much of 
a poet measured in the scale of eternity, which is how poets un- 
happily measure themselves, but good enough; hard work has made 
up in some degree for a lack of native talent. I began writing verse 
early — when I was eight or nine years old, I guess — and I've been at 
it ever since. Not pretty poems probably not powerful poems either, 
but honest ones, most of them, genuinely felt and experienced; and 
that is as much as I can, or care to, produce. But don't think I am 
a trifler. On the contrary, I make no apology for being a poet and I 
am deadly earnest about my poems; I love poetry and have worked 
hard to learn something about it. Poetry is, of course, only one 
means of coming to terms with life, not the most successful; but 
not the least successful either. In 1951 I was editor of a magazine 
called Pegasus: A Monthly Exhibition of New Verse, which had 
been established in Chicago in 1897 and which had, since about 
1910 or so, been closely associated with the modern movement in 
American literature: a distinguished magazine, whose contributors 
included most of the distinguished American (and British) poets 
of this century, although it had been permitted to lapse into dull- 
ness and mediocrity at more than one point in its history. Still, I 
enjoyed a good real of respect, as the editor of Pegasus, among most 
professional writers and critics, except in some of the fruitier quar- 
ters. More about this later. 

Speaking of the fruitier quarters, however, I should perhaps 
make it clear that my literary life has been solely professional: my 
friends, generally speaking, have not been poets. You see, I know 

43 



perfectly well the disesteem in which some of you hold poets, and 
I don't blame you. The fact is that many poets are splendid people, 
including most of the great poets of our time, but these are just 
the ones you are least likely to meet in the centers of so-called 
literary life; instead, they are often virtually inaccessible. Perhaps 
the greatest disappointment of my young manhood was learning 
that the literary life, which is described so attractively in the books 
that are written by the sort of people who write books about the 
literary life, is in fact a hideous compound of vanity, backbiting, 
ambition, greed, politics, neurosis, and perversion; and I discovered, 
somewhat ruefully, that I had best stay away from it. I ought to add 
that, among the perversions, the sexual categories, though ob- 
noxious, are by no means the most dangerous. 

I was born in the city of Fort Wayne, Indiana, on 3rd August, 
anno Domini 1921. Married 1941; divorced 1947. No children. 

That's as much as need be said at this point about the author. 



44 



CHAPTER 10 



The rest of that weekend at Lake Jones was awkward. For me, 
at any rate — Alex didn't appear to mind it. Not once could I catch 
her aside, or provoke so much as a secret smile from her, a touch in 
passing, a meaning glance; not one comforting acknowledgment of 
complicity; the episode in the oak clearing might as well have been 
a dream, since there was nothing to show that it had happened — 
no change in Alex, no new element, however slight, in her be- 
havior toward Charley or me. I had only my indubitable sexual itch 
to remind me, by raising hopes for the future, of what had occurred 
so recently in the past. 

One aspect of this category of experience which everyone remarks 
about is its suddenness. Perfectly true, Lord knows, in this case. 
I had known Alex for some time; along with half the other in- 
habitants of the South Side I had regarded her as a notable sexpot, 
but wholly outside the range of my own possible interest. As nearly 
as I can remember, she hadn't even entered my sexual fantasies — 
certainly not seriously. She was Charley's wife, Charley was my 
good friend; but that was only part of it: beyond this was the 
extreme difference, so it appeared, between us, the widest imagi- 
nable gulf separating our personalities, predilections, backgrounds, 
etc. It seemed until that Saturday afternoon as if we scarcely spoke 
the same language. Neither of us had ever listened seriously to any- 
thing the other had said, I'm sure. The idea that either of us ever 
could be desperately interested in what the other said had never, 
I believe, entered our heads. 

Yet there on the cottage porch that afternoon, as the three of us 

45 



drank our beers — Alex and I still wet with the serums and ichors 
of our exertions in the sun — I knew myself to be sinking like a 
leaky scow into the sea, the enveloping ocean of tenderness, long- 
ing, warmth, (if you will) sentimentality; I was inextricably in 
love; my look rested upon her as softly and possessively as morning 
mist in a valley, and returned to her as ineluctably. Scarcely an hour 
earlier I had been looking at her with perfect composure and de- 
tachment. In old romances the hero at such moments was said to 
have been transported, and this was the case with me exactly: still 
at the cottage, still at Lake Jones, still dressed in my tawdry skin 
and wearing my piratical face, I nevertheless had been moved to an 
entirely new country where nothing, not even the most familiar 
object, presented the appearance by which it could be recognized. 

Romance: a terribly mistreated notion. Permitted any dignity at 
all only in myth and fantasy. Yet no less a part of our steely, stony, 
actual days. I have read critics and historians who attribute the 
origin of rottenness in our civilization to the ascendancy of ro- 
mance — no doubt you know the ones I mean. But I say romance is 
all that makes the rottenness bearable. 

Alex was, as I said, tres cool that weekend. I didn't know what 
she was thinking, and for that matter I never found out, except by 
inference. We had hamburgers and salad and a bottle of Chilean 
Chablis (so-called) for supper that Saturday, then about sundown 
went out in the boat, rowing quietly — Alex at the oars — and drift- 
ing toward the eastern shore, where the last rays of sunlight slanted 
orangely on a convocation of stout-trunked, misshapen willows. At 
water's edge grew short grass, sparse in a bed of sand; a few feet 
offshore floated a nearly waterlogged willow branch caught in some 
dark species of water growth. This log was a favored sunning spot 
for turtles and water snakes during hot afternoons, but at sunset, 
or a little before, it was appropriated by the songbirds that came 
from neighboring woods and fields to drink and bathe before the 
night. It was a sight worth beholding. We weren't bird watchers, 
Charley and Alex and I, not by any means, but we never failed to 
go and see the birds on sunny evenings. Bluebirds, goldfinches, 
purple buntings, tanagers, catbirds, robins, yellow- and orange- 
colored warblers that we were too ignorant to identify, jays, 
thrushes, waxwings, vireos — all came, fluttering, chirping, dipping 

46 



their beaks down in formal bows to drink. Frequently, too, we even 
distinguished minute hummingbirds perched apprehensively on one 
end of the log, away from the others. Overhead swifts and night- 
hawks cavorted, bats zoomed and veered. We drifted, that Saturday 
evening, to a point about thirty feet offshore, where we could see 
the birds well, keeping quiet so as not to frighten them. Alex let 
the oars trail from the tholepins, and pushed herself back off the 
seat so that she was sitting on the bottom of the boat, her back 
resting against Charley's knees and her feet cocked against the 
rower's seat. Charley's hand rested on her shoulder, beside her 
throat. I was facing them from the forward seat. "Look, Charley," 
she whispered, "aren't they beautiful?" He said nothing, but I saw 
his hand close gently on her shoulder. The sun slanted lower and 
the light deepened, combining with the heat haze in such a way 
that the grove of willows and the little scene below intensified 
against the darkened water which reached back of us on either side; 
it was like a stage, strongly lighted in the darkness of the rest of 
the theater, where the actors in their bright costumes — the song- 
birds — were diminutive and distant, as if seen from a seat in the 
gallery; and the sound of them speaking their lines — chirping and 
scolding — came as if from a remote and separate place across the 
surface of the water. Everything else was still; even the children at 
the other end of the lake had gone in to bed. But just before the 
sunrays lifted from the scene and over the end of the lake, leaving 
the stage dark, Alex threw up both arms and both legs and 
shouted, "Aaaahhhhhheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!" — an enormous noise 
after the quiet. "Fly away, fly away home, you little bastards!" she 
yelled. And of course that is what they did, with consternation and 
confusion. We had known Alex was going to do this; she always 
did; every time without fail; we had been waiting for it. But we 
never knew the exact moment when the spirit would move her; and 
so we were startled anyway, and both jumped, Charley and I, half 
out of our skins. "Alex!" Charley said in good-natured exaspera- 
tion, "you'll give us failure of the heart." Alex snickered. At that 
moment the mosquitoes found us, as they always did sooner or 
later. Alex sprang into the rower's seat, seized the oars, and began 
rowing maniacally, while Charley and I rowed with our hands, 
and the boat slithered and lurched over the water to our sector of 

47 



lakefront, where we scrambled out, hauled the boat up the bank, 
flung the chain around the post, ran to the cottage, shut all the 
doors and windows, and turned on the lights. "Beer, for God's 
sake," gasped Alex. "Beer for the troops." Charley opened the door 
of the ice compartment and reached behind the ice cake; he 
turned toward us, holding out a bottle of American champagne. 

"Charley," Alex intoned gravely. "For me?" 

"Pig," Charley said. "Be thankful if you get any . . ." 

"Very extravagant, Charles," I said. "You better let me chip in 
something toward the expense." 

"No," Charley said. He had taken off the foil, and was working 
circumspectly at the cork. "What the hell, in France one believes 
in champagne now and then — to keep up the spirits. No? Very 
good for the liver too. Only trouble is 7 77 he remarked seriously as he 
drew out the cork and set the bottle down softly on the table, 
"over there we got better wine for less money." 

Alex had brought three paper cups, decorated with cerise polka 
dots, and Charley poured out the wine. "We need a toast," he said 
to me. "You're the poet, that's your department." 

"But it's your wine," I protested. 

"I never can think of what to say." 

"Well, for sweet Pete's sake, hurry up," Alex said. She clenched 
her teeth in a grimace. 

"Okay, okay,"I said. I elevated my cup with mock elegance. "To 
Lake Jones, by whose pacific waters may good fellowship forever 
dwell." 

"Damn right," Charley said. He had taken me seriously. 

We all drank then, swallowing deeply. The wine was cold and 
— in that time and place — delicious. 

Then we sat down at the scarred deal table, sweaty and con- 
tented — even I grew calm at that moment, under the sedative 
influence of the wine and the warm night. My guilt and longing 
fell away from me, and I felt as I had always felt with these two 
friends, as if the transaction in the oak clearing had been somehow 
canceled. We lit cigarettes, and talked, leaning our elbows on the 
table, looking at the deep shadows cast in each other's eyes by the 
dangling light bulb overhead. We spoke of our memories of child- 
hood, fondly, smilingly, basking in one another's remembered 

48 



gladnesses; we sipped the wine; and when it was gone we continued 
smoking and talking until after midnight, and then we went to bed. 
As I undressed, I heard an owl barking — whuff, whuff, whu-whuff 
— in the woods. Once I was alone in bed, naked as the light bulb 
and just as hot, dripping on the damp sheet, then the night turned 
vicious, of course, and the guilt and desire returned. Alex and 
Charley slept in the room off the kitchen, I in the room off the 
living room, and our bedrooms were separated by a single wall, a 
thin partition of smirched fiberboard. The beds were iron bedsteads 
with cotton mattresses and noisy springs. I heard the creaking of 
the bed in the next room; shaking with jealousy, I reached to turn 
out the light — and burned my fingers on the hot bulb. Perspiration 
jumped out all over my skin. I wondered, furiously and dismally, 
if he was giving her as good a time as I had. But the creaking 
stopped, and I decided they had simply been moving around before 
settling into sleep. ... As a matter of fact, this had happened every 
night we had spent in the cottage together, though previously I had 
been only curious, not insane: the bed in the next room had always 
creaked, I had always wondered if they were actually doing what 
my mind depicted them as doing, the creaking had always stopped, 
I had always decided they were simply going to sleep; I had always 
decided, in plain truth, that Charley's ingenerate sense of delicacy 
in such matters, in all matters, joined with his knowledge that the 
beds could clearly be heard through the partition — for certainly 
they could hear my bed squeaking too, especially when I tumbled 
about in a fit of insomnia, as I often did — all these considerations 
would prohibit any active conjugating between them as long as a 
third person was in the cottage. In the past, though, I had smiled, 
half fondly, at Charley's sense of decorum, and had wondered idly 
if his reserve was shared by Alex. This night I did not smile, or 
wonder. 

My fit subsided, somewhat. But was replaced immediately by the 
jitters. In the night my worries exploded into a mass of half- 
formed fears. Alex and I had committed our joyous transgression 
in the oak clearing without taking the ordinary precautions recom- 
mended in a technological era, and I desperately wanted to get her 
aside and ask her what time of the month it was. What agonies a 
man lets himself in for! Women too, of course, with all manner of 

49 






ensuing psychogenic disturbances, as one very well knows; and 
Alex's calmness should have reassured me. But I suspected that she 
would be calm in the face of anything — for example, a Tartar rape 
— and besides, at that point I was beyond reassurance; I was as 
high as a kite, drunk with wine, heat, fatigue, nerves, and prurience. 
Not that I wasn't perfectly willing to sire veritable hordes upon 
that luxurious body; but not now, not so soon. Let it be done prop- 
erly, decently. I didn't have the faintest idea what — in those cir- 
cumstances — could possibly constitute propriety or decency, but I 
thought, hoped, wondered, believed, feared, demanded that some 
accommodation could be arranged. I was gone, flipped, out of 
my mind. 

Sleep was impossible. I tossed and struggled in my bed, though 
as gingerly as possible so as not to disturb the sleepers — if they 
were asleep — in the next room. Eventually I got up, stepping softly, 
put on my pants and sneakers, went to my suitcase and fumbled 
in the pocket for the bottle of Seconal capsules, went to the icebox 
and got out a bottle of beer, and then retired to the sofa on the 
porch. Naturally I had forgotten the opener. I went back and got 
it, and the floor creaked like a windlass. I swallowed a capsule with 
a gulp of beer, lit a cigarette, and leaned back against the musty 
fabric of the sofa, staring into the darkness. The sky was black, 
filled, it seemed, with black smoke — no moon or stars. The night 
dripped. I agonized as before, without much purpose. By the time 
the second cigarette was finished, I had collapsed at last, leaden- 
skulled and numb-bodied, with just enough strength remaining to 
set the beer bottle, still with an inch of beer in it, shakily on the 
floor and creep into the crotch of the sofa. I woke again at four 
o'clock when someone split my head with an axe. It was only a 
crow cawing, but the wound remained — all day. I was stiff and cold. 

I remember, though, my first waking thought: idiot (to myself), 
why didn't you think of it before? — there's nothing whatever to 
worry about, a woman like Alex would have had herself spayed. 
The bitch! — what a horrible thing to do. ... It wasn't true, as a 
matter of fact; yet my intuition of her character, even at that 
ghastly hour, perhaps because of that ghastly hour, was accurate 
enough. It almost could have been true. In another time and place 
I'm certain she would have done it without a moment's hesitation. 

50 



But do you see how soon love mocks and doubts itself? — how soon 
the objective mind begins recording its reservations? This was the 
horrible part: I knew I was in love with a soulless woman and I 
knew I would go on loving her just the same. 



51 



CHAPTER 11 



The following day — Sunday — was ugly and brutal, a killer. 

After I had awakened at four o'clock, I returned to my bedroom, 
but lay sleepless a long time while the early summer morning 
brightened, my head aching and my stomach uneasy. There wasn't 
any booze; we usually didn't bring anything hard with us on these 
weekends at Lake Jones. I thought about getting another bottle 
of beer, but my gut quavered at the notion. I dozed finally, and 
found myself among macabre dreams — I don't remember what, 
but I do remember waking in a fright, ill and worn out. Alex was 
messing around in the kitchen. It was about eight-thirty. 

Of course, the first thing I thought was that maybe Charley was 
still asleep, in which case I might have a few minutes alone with 
Alex; and I got out of bed quickly, tipping the contents of my skull 
like pebbles in a bucket, and dressed hastily; but Charley was just 
coming out of his and Alex's bedroom as I entered the kitchen. 
"Hi," he said. "You look awful." 

"No doubt, no doubt," I grumbled. I went to look at myself in 
the cracked mirror with the tarnished, curlicued brass frame that 
hung over the iron sink. I've seen better looking squashed frogs. 
It's bad enough to be able to see practically the whole lower half 
of a man's eyeballs, but when they're bloodshot to boot, you have 
a pretty god-awful image confronting you. I snorted, half expecting 
flame to spurt from my nostrils. But it didn't. I raised the pump 
handle and leaned on it, and stuck my head under the spout. 
There's one thing about pump water, or rather two things: you 
have to work for it, but when it comes it is cold and delicious. I 

52 



soaked my head and drank from cupped hands. Charley appeared, 
with two aspirins in his outstretched palm, and I took them and 
swallowed them. "Thanks," I said. "That's more like it." 

"Bad night?" 

Before I could answer, Alex held out a mug of coffee to me, 
holding it by the handle so that I had to grip the bottom. I burned 
my fingers again. "Thanks," I said, putting the cup down in the 
sink. 

"Well, drink it," Alex commanded. "It'll do you good." 

As a matter of fact, it did. It was good coffee. Alex was a marvel. 
Maybe other people could get good coffee out of a rusty percolator 
and a kerosene stove that smoked like the town dump, but I doubt 
it. I leaned back against the far end of the sink while Charley 
doused his head; I sipped the coffee. When he looked up, I wagged 
my head sympathetically at him. His blond hair hung darkly and 
limply over his forehead, and he took the towel and rubbed his 
head vigorously. "That's better," he said. "Well, did you or 
didn't you?" 

"A rotten night," I answered. "Slept on the porch part of the 
time." 

"Humpf," he said. 

I put down my coffee again, took the comb that lay next to the 
cylindroid box of salt on the shelf, went to the mirror and combed 
my hair. Then I picked up the coffee, got my cigarettes from the 
bedroom, and sat down at the deal table in the living room. I lit 
a cigarette and drank some more coffee. I had felt uncomfortable 
in the kitchen, and I was glad to get away. 

Alex had been standing over the stove — in front of the stove, 
before the stove — tending bacon and eggs. She was wearing pale 
green pajamas that obviously hadn't been slept in, made of some 
soft, lustrous fabric. (Don't ask me what it was; I know nothing 
of such things.) The effect produced by the soft cloth falling 
smoothly over her body was an impression of absolute deliciousness, 
nothing else — softness and firmness conjoined, pliancy (compli- 
ancy?) and strength, youthfulness and ripeness; and the color, 
which by itself, I imagine, would have been enough to make one 
retch, especially at that hour of the day, was the perfectly matching 
complement to her brown skin and dark golden hair. But then, so 

53 



were all colors. ... It was femininity heightened. But the word 
is wrong, suggesting as it does the etherealized sentimentality of 
lace and frills and pallor. The concept is better (though more 
awkwardly) expressed in the word femaleness, the gender em- 
bodied (put in a body) and functioning. I felt my hands going 
out to touch her, like the will-less hands of a starving man going 
out to food; her soft-clothed flesh demanded to be touched. But 
of course Charley had been there too, the husband, the friend; 
like the glass that separates the starving man from the goods dis- 
played in the bakery window. Believe me, adultery is no game, no 
lignthearted adventure, as the authors of comedies and romances 
would have you think; it's a serious business, atrociously serious. 
Consider the emotions I felt then, leaning against the sink and 
sipping my coffee and looking at Alex and Charley. Engulfing, 
staggering, starving devotion to Alex, mixed with blank astonish- 
ment that this should be so; and for Charley . . . ? Guilt, of course. 
Guilt first and paramount, a nerve-twisting sense of culpability. His 
presence in the same room was a shouting, strident accusation of 
duplicity, evil, against which I was defenseless. And then affection 
too, almost a fraternal affection, a desire to protect and help, for I 
was never unaware of the tragedies of Charley's life. And also 
respect for him, for his modesty and goodness. But again, again, 
again, and ever again: jealousy, anger, hatred, fury lashing at the 
one who stood in my way. ... And finally, for myself, Fear. 

These feelings went to work on my mind and body like a wreck- 
ing crew, attacking every cornice and buttress. I tottered, the brick 
and timber and plaster cried out and fell; so it seemed at least, 
though if I shook outwardly, Charley must have put it down simply 
to my insomnia. 

Sitting in the other room with my coffee and cigarette, I experi- 
enced the old sensations of lost selfhood: disorientation. My center 
of consciousness had been struck like a globule of mercury with a 
hammer, and the bits and pieces had fled in all directions. I looked 
up and searched for the outside world through the smeared win- 
dow, half expecting the objects out there — trees, lake, stones — to be 
showing evidence of independent existence, to be moving or con- 
versing under their own power, as if they had expropriated my 

54 



identity and were sharing it out among themselves. But nothing 
moved — even when I looked back again quickly. 

Alex came in with a plate of bacon and eggs in one hand and a 
baker's carton, containing a coffee ring, in the other; and Charley 
followed with two more servings of bacon and eggs. They both 
made a second trip for the coffeepot, silverware, margarine, etc. 
Then we ate. We sat around the table as usual, but this time in 
silence. No one said anything. This had happened before, of course, 
and I had taken minor satisfaction in the knowledge that we three 
could sit comfortably together without talking, as good friends 
should. But not this morning. My apprehension was nearing the 
point at which it would be more than I could bear — the pressure 
mounting up — and then suddenly, catastrophically, the idea came 
into my mind for the first time that Charley already knew. Alex 
had told him. The bitch! And Charley was keeping silent because 
he was trying to think of a way to begin. In a minute the whole 
ugly, hot, shameful secret would be out, lying on the table before 
us like a bloody cloth. My mind, shattered, began running like a 
cageful of mice, searching for a word, a gesture, anything to divert 
the impending blow and restore an element of rationality, or at 
least decorum, to the collapsing reality of the scene. I found noth- 
ing. It was a case of demoralization, complete and dangerous. 

What saved me, of course, was the mind's (already noted) de- 
tachability. I became an objective register of the scene, escaping 
into remoteness, seeing the room, the breakfast, Alex and Charley 
and myself, from a distance, seeing that the tension was all in my- 
self, as I should have known from the outset. There was none in 
Charley; he could not have disguised it; he was eating his breakfast 
with his ordinary calm, musing unhurriedly about something. Soon, 
I knew, he would speak. And he did: "Damn good eggs/' he said. 
And then Alex, "Have some more coffee ring." I felt better imme- 
diately, and in fact felt so much better — a sudden onrush of 
cordiality — that the danger now swung to the opposite vector, and 
I could have spoiled everything through simple exultation. I was 
going to get through the breakfast after all! It was a triumph of 
luck and I was ready to shout. I controlled myself, however, and 
said, "Yes, thanks," and took another wedge of coffee ring. By the 
end of the meal, I was more or less fully restored. 

55 



Charley was right — it's food that does it. They were good eggs. 
It's marvelous, really. Normally I'm not enough interested to go to 
any trouble for the sake of my stomach, but I wonder if this isn't 
a mistake: I've noticed that people who think about food a lot 
seem to be the most pleased with life. At any rate, getting some 
chow into the belly does wonders for the nerves. If I had spoken 
these thoughts aloud, Alex would have remarked, "Oral satisfac- 
tion," while stuffing an extra large piece of margarine-coated coffee 
ring into her mouth. Maybe so. But I'm inclined to think there's 
more to it than that. I can imagine that a mouthful of nipple and 
a bellyful of mother's milk — 98.6° of warmth; ugh! — might teach 
the infant to value comfort and digestive lethargy; but I don't see 
how this alone can also inspire him to undertake foolhardy and 
strenuous enterprises. Whereas it is well known that knights of 
old, to say nothing of today, did not sally forth to rescue maidens 
with much gusto unless they had some proteins, preferably wine- 
sodden, floating in their vitals. 

After breakfast we sat for an hour, drinking coffee and smoking, 
then Charley and I cleaned up the dishes while Alex dressed. 
Charley said he would go for the paper; and I immediately tight- 
ened up, of course. Alex — her perversity by this time was destroying 
me — said, "Oh, let's all go," so we all went; cruising into Niles, 
Michigan, the nearest town — some president was born there, I for- 
get which, one of the ones you never can put a face — or a time — 
to. We went to the drugstore and bought a South Bend paper for 
me and the Chicago Tribune for Alex. So far as I know, there isn't 
a newspaper worth reading between Philadelphia and Denver, so I 
always buy whatever comes easiest to hand so long as it isn't the 
Tribune; but Alex used to read the Sunday Tribune practically 
word by word, sitting on the floor with the different sections strewn 
around her. We bought ice cream cones too, but had to wolf them 
down quickly because they melted so fast. As usual, I got a tooth- 
ache. The heat was coming on fierce, worse than yesterday. We 
drove back to the cottage, read the papers, had lunch, loafed, went 
swimming, drank beer, etc., etc., but there was no doubt about it, 
Sunday afternoon was a hideous drag, the sun spattering down 
like volcanic rain through the steaming atmosphere, all of us 
sweat-sodden, bored, and pooped. No one was sorry when, about 

56 



five o'clock, Alex said, "Oh, the hell with it, let's go back to town 
and have dinner there." 

"It'll be awful hot, driving," Charley said. 

"Who cares? All the more reason to get it over. I can't be any 
hotter than I already am anyway." 

"Yes, she is right. No?" Charley looked at me. His ordinary 
speech was very nearly standard American, but occasionally he 
injected, possibly with conscious intent, a touch of accent and a 
suggestion of European syntax, as he had here. 

I agreed. I knew I wouldn't find any way to resolve my various 
enigmas as long as we remained together in the cottage; and 
besides, by this time I was tired out, and I thought I'd be glad to 
get away from both Alex and Charley for a while. It would be a 
hellish drive back to town, no doubt of that. We usually waited 
until late at night, or even Monday morning. "Okay, let's go," I 
said. Twenty minutes later we were on our way, having shoved our 
belongings into suitcases and locked up the cottage. At the last 
minute, when we had already turned into the lane heading toward 
the highway, Charley remembered the icebox, and we went back. 
Charley and I, grumbling at our absentmindedness, went into the 
cottage, and I emptied the pan underneath while he put what was 
left of the ice cake in the sink. We left the beer in the empty ice 
compartment, and I threw part of a head of lettuce and two eggs 
down the hole in the outhouse, which I don't suppose added any- 
thing, come Tuesday morning, to the general aroma of sanctity 
at Lake Jones. 

We never knew. As we churned with intentional arrogance 
through the sweltering gentility of Niles — whose houses, with walls 
of ulcerating gingerbread, pillars of tallow, lawns of yeast, eyed us 
through watery, lidless windows — and then turned westward across 
Michigan's still lovely farmland, going toward St. Joseph where 
we would pick up the main speedway to Chicago, our conversation 
was more or less like this: 

Alex: Why in God's name do we keep doing it? We must be 
idiots? 

Ego: Granted. 

Charley (lighting a cigarette with the dashboard lighter) : Doing 
what? 

57 



A: Coming out to this g.d. Lake Jones every weekend, what else? 

C: Well, it's better than— 

A: Oh, Charley. When it takes three hours to drive out and 
three hours to drive back, with all the traffic and the stink and the 
rotten heat? And what do we get for it? 

E : I think we've been through this before. 

A: I know. But just look at us. Bored and bushed and stinky. 
And we haven't even done anything. 

E (wincing) : Well . . . 

C: You wait. Next Friday afternoon you'll be saying you can't 
wait to get away from the city. You'll be even hotter and more 
pooped — isn't that so? (He glanced toward me.) And all you'll 
be thinking about is sitting on the porch and drinking cold beer 
and going swimming and — all that. By six o'clock Friday afternoon 
we'll be on our way again, heading for Lake Jones as fast as we 
can go, you wait and see. 

E: He's right, you know. 

A: Nope. Not me. I've had it. I'm fed up to here. I don't know 
why we ever thought it would be any good in the first place. Seri- 
ously (she leaned forward and wiggled her fanny on the seat) look 
at that cottage. Cottage, my toenail! It's nothing but a shack and 
you know it. 

C : But we can't afford — 

A: All right, if you can't afford to go to a decent place in the 
summer, then I say you should stay at home. 

E : It's pretty shabby, all right. 

A: Shabby! It's a — a goddamn pigsty. 

C: I know. We all wish we could do better. 

A: It's not that, Charley. And you know it. Nobody's saying you 
ought to be rich. It's just that we . . . well, if you haven't got 
much money, that's when you should be careful how you spend it, 
isn't it? That's when you should get the most for what you've got, 
isn't it? (Looking at me, she said it again.) Isn't it? 

E : I guess so. But . . . 

A: Of course. Listen. How much did we pay for that shack — 
two hundred for the season? All right, suppose we took that two 
hundred dollars at the beginning of the summer, plus all we spend 
for gas and oil and provisions and all that, and put it aside. And 

58 



suppose we divided it up, a part for each weekend in the summer. 
How many would that be — twelve weekends? Okay, then we could 
spend the money on some good meals in air-conditioned restau- 
rants. And we could go to some good air-conditioned movies. 
That's the way to beat the heat. And if you want to go swimming, 
hell, you got the biggest lake in the world no more than three 
blocks from your front door. As for me, I can do just as well in 
the bathtub. 

C: But isn't it nice to get out in the country? 

A: Balls with the country! . . . Oh, well, all right, yes, once or 
twice or maybe three times in the summer, of course — but then 
you can go to different places, not to this same god-awful Lake 
Jones all the time, you can drive up to someplace in Wisconsin or 
to that lake in Indiana, whatever it's called — 

E : Shafer Lake. 

A: Yes, and to . . . to . . . hell, I don't know, you can go any- 
where. But you can do it properly — get a decent cottage for a night 
or two, or stay in a hotel; you can be clean and comfortable. 

C: We'd never have enough money for much of that sort of 
thing. 

A: I don't care. I'd rather have a decent weekend once in the 
whole summer, if that's all we can afford, than go out to that 
grubby whatever-it-is, that pigsty, every bloody weekend from June 
to September. 

E (conciliatory) : We've said it all before, you know — every time 
on the way back. It doesn't have to be settled now, does it? Let 
it ride, we'll see how we feel later. 

A: Well, I know how I'm going to feel. No more Lake Jones. 
I've had it. 

C: But it is nice to get out to the country. No? 

A: Ah . . . 

She didn't complete what she had intended to say, however. 
Instead, she fell back against the seat, brushing a wisp of damp 
hair from her temple. "Give me a cigarette, will you?" I gave her 
one, and held a match for her, cupped in my hands against the 
airflow from the window. Alex subsided, smoked. She didn't say 
much for the rest of the drive. But as a matter of fact her feeling 
turned out to be right; we never went back to Lake Jones, the 

59 



enthusiasm we had had at the beginning of the summer, when we 
rented the cottage until Labor Day, thinking that any respite, no 
matter how inelegant, from the oppressiveness of the city would 
be a benefaction to ourselves, having utterly evaporated, even, I 
believe, in Charley. He was a little tight, in plain truth, like many 
Europeans; and his main argument, if he had felt he wanted to 
expose it, for continuing to use the cottage would have been that 
we had paid for the place in advance for a whole season and ought 
to get our money's worth. But we never returned, and about a 
month later I mailed the key back to the owner. 

We were coming into St. Joseph now, a couple of miles of drive- 
ins, gas stations, tackle and bait stores, marine supply depots, 
secondhand car lots, novelty shops, etc., stationed along the Lake- 
shore and flanking a broad, fuming concrete strip. The sunrays 
burned in from the west, directly in our faces. Charley's '47 Ford 
coupe was as hot as the inside of a chicken pie, and about as 
glutinous. Charley was driving, leaning forward, his left elbow 
cocked on the door. He loved to drive. So did I, of course, but it 
was his car and he drove. I sat on the other side, and Alex was 
between us. Cramped quarters, especially in such heat; and for a 
while I rested my left arm along the back of the seat in order to 
make additional space, feeling the back of Alex's head against my 
forearm; but then my arm went to sleep and my shoulder stiffened. 
I changed position, and Alex and I sat shoulder to shoulder, our 
perspiration gluing us together like mucilage. We stopped for a red 
light and Charley jazzed the motor to keep it from overheating. 
Charley's car was upholstered in the standard automotive plush of 
those days, the most unlikely fabric in the world. Plush, for God's 
sake! It must be the best clue we have to the American mentality 
of the 1890's, the days of the Oil Barons and Railroad Magnates, 
people who could tolerate such upholstering in their carriages and 
railway cars simply for the sake of its expensiveness; until the word 
itself came to signify wealth and luxury. Remember Lord Plush- 
bottom? Must have been a damned stuffy lot. But maybe it's a 
clue to our own mentalities too, I mean the fact that automobile 
manufacturers continued to use it for upholstering cheap cars long 
after it had passed out of high fashion, until nearly the middle of 
the century, in fact, simply because poor people (meaning middle- 

60 



class) continued to accept it as a snob symbol. That's over, any- 
way. Something to be thankful for in the general despondency. 
The point is that that plush used to be torture in the summertime; 
the pile or nap or whatever you call it would stick through thin, 
sweat-sodden clothing like pins, irritating your skin, making it 
burn and itch. 

Traffic thickened as we left St. Joseph, and would continue to 
thicken all the way to Chicago as more and more people heading 
home from points along the Indiana shore joined the stream. The 
concrete highway was a steady rolling formation of cars, like a 
railroad train a hundred miles long. At first the pace was quick, 
but then it slowed, cars jammed up, sometimes there would be a 
crescendo of aphonic squeals as drivers, one after another, jumped 
on their brakes; for a mile ahead in the late afternoon light you 
could see red glowing taillights, and the air would turn blue and 
acrid with exhaust fumes from idling motors. My headache re- 
turned, and with it my tension and jitteriness — Alex and Charley's 
little disagreement hadn't helped my nerves either. When the 
jam-ups occurred, I could feel a suppressed scream against my 
pharynx, and the muscles of my arms and legs tightened in an 
impulse to throw open the door of the car, leap out, and run for 
safety in the woods. Charley only mumbled under his breath — 
"Schirzzzulschiffivitchesserz!" — when we got hemmed in. Aside 
from that, no one spoke for a long time. 

By the time we passed through and out of Gary, it must have 
been nearly eight o'clock; the sun was setting; thunderclouds 
heaped up around the horizon rather spectacularly, lighted like 
endless celestial chambers. Sharp gleams of lightning played in- 
tricately among the clouds. We all looked, but no one said any- 
thing. The sky darkened quickly as we drove on, one car among 
thousands, through the industrial sections south of Chicago; and 
as we passed a petroleum refinery, which was located next to a 
field filled with huge storage tanks — glistening silvery globes in 
rows, like a formation of military balloons — the storm broke over 
us; pelting, smashing rain, with thunderclaps exploding like how- 
itzers all around us. 



61 



CHAPTER 12 



At an early point in the storm, the low clouds, roiling swiftly 
over us, parted for an instant, and the last upward rays of the sun, 
which must have been setting somewhere to the west, near Daven- 
port perhaps, were caught briefly against the white upper clouds, 
a fiery spectacle. It looked like a great animal hide nailed up to 
dry, bloody side out. ... A sign from heaven? It could be a cross 
too, I saw at once, a cross leading us onward, as the children had 
once been led onward into their devout terrors during that incon- 
ceivable crusade. A sense of religious presence stirred in me. It was 
a cross certainly, painted in the royal hue, compelling and awe- 
some. A Cross of Lorraine, the central rod and the upper and lower 
transverse bars, standing majestically in the sky. I thought of 
Domremy and the girl there, La Pucelle. (All this occupying no 
more than a second, or a small part of a second, in my mind.) I 
thought of Rouen and the woman there. And I looked, sidelong 
and furtive, at the person beside me. 

I had been doing this, in fact, during most of the drive from 
Lake Jones. The temptation was too great to be resisted. Brown 
temple, hair of darkening lights (like candlelights), cheekbone and 
jaw rounding and dipping and curving, full-petaled mouth, bead- 
work of exquisite moisture. I was drawn, pulled, turned, torn, 
commanded, subjugated, unwilled. ... As powerful fish striving 
upstream in floodtime are nevertheless carried slowly backward 
by the force of the current, so my eyes turned slowly toward Alex, 
catching each time a blurred vision of her through the edge of my 
lashes and across the bridge of my nose. ... I don't know whether 

62 



or not she was aware of this; but when I turned now to look at her, 
with the thought of Joan in my mind, I suppose I had a look of 
exceptional tenderness in my eyes — if such a thing is possible with 
eyes like mine. At any rate, she gave me a nudge with her elbow, 
no more than a suggestion against my arm. But it was the first 
intimate sign I had had from her since the day preceding, and I 
went immediately into a state — I confess, I bemoan — scarcely short 
of certifiable dementia. 

Ahead, the break in the clouds had closed again. The rain was 
driving hard, the wind was strong, and we were passing an open 
field of floccose daisies, bubbling with commotion. But I saw that 
Charley was only now rolling up the window on his side, and as I 
cranked the handle on my side too, I realized that the whole epi- 
sode of the cross had required no more than an instant as the rain 
began to fall. 



63 



CHAPTER 13 



C: Hell of a thing to have to roll up the windows just when 
the air might be getting a little cooler. 

A: Leave them open then. 

C: We'd get soaked. 

A: I'm soaked anyway. 

C: Okay. 

Charley dutifully rolled his window down again, partway. I 
rolled mine down too. I thought: Charley and I will be the ones to 
get the rain, not Alex — she's in the middle. 

E: That's the trouble with thunderstorms, you always have to 
close the windows just when the cool wind might do you some 
good. 

A: Why? What's the difference if things get a little wet? 

E: Not on account of the wetness. It's suppose to be safer. 

A: Why? You mean lightning might strike or something? That's 
an old wives' tale. 

E: I don't think so. Lightning is supposed to follow air currents. 
If you open your windows you let out the warm air inside, it might 
make a current of warm rising air that the lightning could follow 
right into your house. 

A: Piffle. 

C: No, I've read that too. Just the other day, in fact. Man, 
wouldn't it be nine kinds of hell if lightning struck those gas 
storage tanks back there? 

A: Let's get going then. Let's get out of here. 

E: No danger. They probably got lightning rods all over them. 

64 






C: That's right. That'd keep the lightning away from them. 

E : Where did you get that idea? 

C: What idea? 

E: That lightning rods keep the lightning away. 

C: Why, what else are they for? ... I read it in the paper a 
couple of days ago. 

E: That's the Tribune for you, full of misinformation. 

C: What do you mean misinformation? Hell, everybody knows 
that. I've read it other places too. 

E: For Christ's sake. Look, Charley, the lightning rod is put 
there to attract the lightning — in a sense anyway. If the lightning 
gets close enough to strike, then it will hit the lightning rod, 
because the lightning rod is made out of iron and has a sharp 
copper point — it makes the best conductor, see? So then it's 
grounded somewhere so it can carry away the charge without letting 
it do any damage. 

C: Maybe. That's not what I read. 

E: Be sensible, for God's sake. How in hell could a lightning 
rod — a stick of metal — repel the lightning? 

C: I don't know, I mean I don't remember the details. Has 
something to do with gasses or something. 

E: Gasses, my foot. Gasses? 

C: That's what I said. 

E: Balls of fire. Charley, where in hell are any gasses going to 
come from? 

C: I don't know. I told you I don't remember the details. 

E: I reckon not. Gasses, for Christ's sake! It's that paper you 
read, gassiest rag in Christendom. 

C: It's a damn good newspaper. Got more news than those 
radical papers you read. How come you know so much about it 
anyway? 

E: Hell, anybody studied a little high school physics knows 
lightning rods don't keep lightning away. 

C: Well, maybe I didn't study physics in school, but I damn 
well know what I read. 

E: Okay. 

C: Goddamn it, maybe I don't remember all the details, maybe 

65 



I don't even understand them, but at least I remember the main 
point. 

E: Okay. 

C: What do you think I am, some kind of a moron or some- 
thing? 

E: Well, don't be so gullible then. You don't have to believe 
all the crap you read, do you? 

C: Listen. It isn't crap. You hear? And I'll believe what I damn 
well want to believe, and I don't need any two-bit wise-guy poet 
like you to tell me either. 

I shut up. Two-bit wise guy, eh? The hell with him. 

I sat in silence. 

As I discovered some years later, Charley was right; or rather we 
were both right, or possibly — probably — both wrong. The fact is, 
neither of us knew what we were talking about. I hope I've made 
that obvious. 

Keraunology is a branch of meteorology that even the meteorolo- 
gists — so I'm given to understand — don't know much about. 

We were out of the storm now. It had been brief and hadn't 
done any real good. The air was still thick and hot and steamy, 
the pavement was half obscured in little feathers of mist. We were 
in Chicago, nearly home, heading north on Lakeshore Drive with 
the lake on our right. It was dark now, but lights shone on the 
beaches, and other lights flickered out of the darkness of the lake 
— riding lights on boats, lights on the pumping stations of the 
Chicago water system. Irrelevantly — or perhaps not irrelevantly 
— I noticed the absence of fireflies — don't we call them lightning 
bugs? — and I remember thinking that we always notice when the 
fireflies come, on the first warm night in June when they appear in 
the gray shadows under the trees at twilight, but we never notice 
when they go. Alex broke the silence. 

A: Why don't you two go soak your heads? 

C: At ease in the ranks. 

A: I will not. Asses, both of you — two ignorant fools that don't 
know what you're talking about. You know it. 

C: It's nothing. Just a little friendly disagreement. 

A: By God, you men are all alike, you really are. Friendly dis- 
agreement? When you're ready to jump at each other's throats 
right this minute? 

66 



C: Don't be silly, Alex. 

A: Think I don't feel it? Murderous, both of you. You'd kill 
if you could. 

E: Alex, don't be extravagant. You know us better than that. 

C: Of course. Just a little friendly disagreement, isn't that right? 

E: Sure. 

C: I'd never kill anybody. 

A: Sure. 

C: No, I mean it. I'd never kill anybody — I know that, just as 
sure as I know ... oh, what my name is, or anything else you like. 

A: How can you be so certain? People do kill other people. It 
happens all the time. 

C: Oh, well . . . 

A: No, I'm serious. I know what you're going to say, that it's 
just in the papers — crazy people killing each other, nobody we 
know. But how can you tell they're crazy? I bet a lot of them are 
exactly like us. It stands to reason they can't all be crazy. 

C: Not insane maybe. But you can't call them normal. Not if 
they kill somebody. 

A: I don't know. I'd call them normal. In certain circumstances 
killing somebody might be the perfectly normal thing to do. 

C: Self-defense — 

A: No, I don't mean that either. You say you wouldn't kill 
anybody because right now you don't have to. The situation you 
are in doesn't require it, you are so far away from it you can't even 
imagine yourself in such a situation. But it could happen. It must 
happen to some people. Terrible things happen all the time. How 
can you predict for certain that someday you won't find yourself 
in a . . . 

She shrugged and let her voice drop into silence. 

C: That's not the way to look at it. Everybody isn't the same. 
I think there are people who would never kill anybody no matter 
what situation they got into. Why, there are some people who 
wouldn't even do it in self-defense, they'd let themselves be killed 
first. 

A: Maybe. They're not the ones I'd call normal. 

C: Everybody doesn't have to be like an animal. That's not 
what normal means. I know what you're saying. You're saying it's 
in everyone, no matter what. And maybe it is in a lot of people, 

67 



maybe even most people. But I still say there are some who can 
always . . . What I mean is I think there are some people in the 
world who hate killing so much that they would always remember 
how much they hate it no matter what happens to them. And if 
it's in them, they wouldn't let it out. Well, I'm one of those 
people — I know I am. 

A: Then what do you keep a gun for? 

E : Charley keeps a gun? 

C: It's nothing, nothing. Damn it, why did you have to mention 
that? 

A: It's true. Are you ashamed of it? 

C: No — yes — I don't know. 

A: Well, don't worry about it. It's no cause to be embarrassed. 

C : I'm not embarrassed. 

E: But Charley, after all you were just saying — 

C: I know, it must sound screwy. I just bought the damn thing 
one day. No particular reason. 

E: I must say I'm surprised. A good deal surprised. It doesn't 
seem like you in the least. 

C: Well . . . it's a pretty neat little machine, you know. Damn 
well made. 

A: Oh, Charley, come off it! You don't keep a pistol around 
because it's a neat little machine. Besides, what good is a machine 
if you don't use it? How can it be neat if you never make it work? 

C: I've never used it. 

A: But I'll bet every time you look at it you have the idea in 
your mind of how it works. I'll bet you can just see it firing and 
the bullet coming out. 

C: Maybe. That's natural, isn't it? 

A: Of course. That's my whole point. What could be more 
natural than keeping a gun? You're not dead, you're not some kind 
of a . . . a. . . . What I mean is you're alive, you're a man, you're 
all there. You're not some kind of a saint or something, you're not 
Mahatma Gandhi. Is there anything the matter with that? . . . 
Having a gun just proves what I was saying, that's all. 

No one spoke for a minute. When Charley broke the silence, it 
was clear he was worried and deadly earnest. 

C: I never looked at it that way. I still don't know. I still think 

68 



there are people in the world who would never kill anybody, per- 
fectly normal people. I think I could find examples of them in the 
history books — famous men, and women too. But me? ... I guess 
no one can ever tell what he's going to do in the future. Not until 
he's dying anyway, maybe not even then. It's hard for me to think 
of anything that would make me want to kill somebody. But maybe 
I would. It would have to be an awfully tough situation, I know 
that. I wouldn't just do it for money or anything like that, that 
would be silly. I don't think I'd do it to save myself even, at least 
not if I had a minute to stop and think. And I wouldn't do it for 
a friend either — that would be like doing it for yourself. Then 
what? . . . For you. Maybe for you. You are what counts most. Yes, 
that would be it, I guess — if somebody was hurting you, or trying 
to horn in. . . . 

He was talking now as if I weren't there. 

I hope it's plain that this was the damndest conversation I ever 
sat through in my life. I've got it verbatim here, I think, or very 
nearly; the words still reverberate in my head. At this point I was 
having a new attack of nerves, of course, the worst I'd had all day. 
I was as tight now as an animal that's been shot in the stomach, 
rigid with shock and fright. Me! — yes, me; obviously Charley was 
going to kill me. He was going to come after me with that surpris- 
ing gun of his, that unbelievable gun. Soon, very soon: the secret 
couldn't last long. And this meant only one thing. I would have 
to kill him first. 

By the time I took notice of where we were, we had turned off 
the Drive and were making our way slowly up 47th Street, two 
blocks from home. 



69 



CHAPTER 14 



At home, I begged off dinner with Alex and Charley, and went 
straight to my own flat, where I sat for hours in my leather chair, 
with quinine water and gin to defend me against the heat. The 
night was oppressive and ominous. I tried to think, but wasn't 
capable of anything resembling consecutive deliberation. Instead 
I worried the weekend as a dog worries a rat — shaking it, tossing it, 
chasing it into corners, pouncing on it. Like a rat, the weekend 
died, and was found to be worthless — not even edible. I went to 
bed at last, but slept fitfully, half aware of a new thunderstorm 
breaking over the city. I dreamed that the apartment house was 
falling down: slowly: wall by wall: each segment peeling away and 
subsiding in an indolent crash. One by one the sleepers were tum- 
bled to their deaths in the rubble. When my time came, I fell sick- 
eningly, and my body was broken and mutilated on the jagged 
brick and splintered wood. It lay grotesquely, its open eyes showing 
nothing but white. Along with the other spectators, I walked over 
from the street to inspect it with interest. 



70 



PART II 



CHAPTER 15 



Yes, Part II. I hadn't anticipated, when I began this work, that 
it would fall into "parts/' but now I see it must. Something con- 
cerning Charley's prior life and circumstances is required, some- 
thing about the events which led up to the weekend memorialized 
in the preceding pages. This is unfortunate and I don't approve 
at all. It's okay, I suppose, for the bright, buttoned-down lads who 
write books shining with technique; but for my taste such books 
have always seemed to convey a false or merely external impression 
of formal structure, like cowflops on which a crust has begun to 
harden. I had thought I could stick to a straight narrative order 
— beginning, middle, and end. Probably you are asking why I 
couldn't foresee the breakdown of such a scheme; it looks obvious 
enough, after all. But believe me, I did begin at the beginning. At 
any rate, I began at the only place where a "beginning" could be 
made. Begging the question? The difficulty lies in the defective 
chronology of the very material with which I am dealing. The 
"story," as I see it, can only be the events which I experienced; 
the rest — the "background" — is the knowledge which came to me 
after the "story" began. (I put "story" and "background" in quotes 
because of the very real possibility that they ought to be reversed, 
or that they are at least freely interchangeable and hence meaning- 
less.) The point is that in order to carry on this analysis with even 
a modest degree of comprehension — yours or mine — we must "pro- 
ceed" (sorry, more quotes) from the "beginning" to the "end" by 
means of "retrogression." 

Which leads me to say, before I continue, a word or two about 

73 



this levon itself, about what I mean by a levon. First, obviously 
levon is novel spelled backward. Very good; as I've pointed out, 
the necessity of going backward is something we must bear con- 
stantly in mind. Secondly, levon is associated — in my thoughts at 
least — with the prefix levo-, meaning lefthanded. Better and better; 
backward and lefthanded. Thirdly, levon is pronounced very much 
like leaven; which makes a pun, a bad one, but for our purposes a 
possibly significant one. Here you have it, at any rate: a backward 
lefthanded leaven. Why? I hope I have made it clear in what I 
have written so far that a desperate need underlies my words. Make 
no mistake, this book is propaganda; but to be effective it must, 
like all propaganda, be indirect, and you, the reader, must not only 
recognize its indirectness but accept it, acquiesce in it, gladly, as 
sucli. 

The experiences considered here are important for three reasons, 
of which the first two — (a) because they are interesting to me, and 
(b) because they are interesting to you — are less demanding than 
the third — (c) because they are interesting to the Devil. As many 
of us as possible must align ourselves on the right side, for the Devil 
is sure to take the wrong. He is sure to insist, par example, that 
these experiences are true. Join me, my friends, in resisting this 
imputation; join me in affirming, over the Devil's insolence, the 
eternal, incorruptible, final mendacity of everything we write. 

Item: the identity of the person on the title page. Obviously a 
fake: Mr. X, Old Pseudononymous, W. W. Noman. Then what 
about the rest of the people whose likenesses appear (or do not 
appear) in these pages? I have known them all; except for Charley 
they are alive today, living in this country. They are real, aren't 
they? . . . Charley, of course, is dead. Which means that he is the 
only one about whom the truth may be told, the only one who 
really exists here on these pages, the only one we know. . . . Still, 
he is very dead; buried in the ground somewhere, I'm not even sure 
where; rotten and gone to pieces. . . . Lies, lies, lies, it is all a pack 
of lies. 

Christ, what a mess! 

In 1941 the state legislature of North Carolina determined by 
statute that the official flower of that commonwealth should no 
longer be the common field daisy, but the flowering dogwood. 
You see what can be done with words? 

74 



CHAPTER 16 






Charley was born, 23rd January, 1929, in Gespunsart, a village in 
the Ardennes, not more than a rifle shot from the Franco-Belgian 
frontier. On the following 11th February, he was taken against his 
will to a neighboring sanctuary of the holy spirit and instructed 
to rejoice in the name of Gaston Louis Marie Silvestre DuPont. 
His response was an audible dilation of the sphincter. So his sister 
Angelique told him some years afterward; she had been age five at 
the time. The priest, she said, coughed inauspiciously. 

Nothing of further importance happened to Gaston for nearly 
ten years. An outrageous statement, obviously; it means that the 
events of his life during this period, important or unimportant, are 
unknown to me. Even then, moreover, ten years later, the event was 
scarcely world-shaking; in October, 1939, he received his first letter, 
no more than a picture postcard, one of those sepia mezzotints that 
look as if they had been printed in manure, depicting in this case 
the cathedral of Dijon and inscribed on the back with a message of 
poignantly depressing formality from his father. M. DuPont had 
been called to defend the glory of France some months before, and 
was doing so in the jaundiced hayfields of the Cote d'Or, as bravely 
as possible in the circumstances, I'm sure, although the value of 
bellywalking over rancid hay stubble with a dummy carbine goug- 
ing his back must have seemed problematical at the time. Gaston 
treasured his father's postcard for nine days, reading it once each 
day before breakfast and twice before going to bed, but then he put 
it for safekeeping among the pages of a book on Flemish history 
which belonged to his father, and he never saw it again. 

He was a thin child; not frail; somewhat taller than most ten- 

75 



year-olds; inclined to be stoop-shouldered. His hair, which was 
blond and cut like a burlesque comedian's wig, hung down in front 
and partly obscured his deep-set eyes, giving him the expression 
of an Eskimo emerging from his igloo after a long dark winter. 
One can't quite tell, from the single early snapshot on which I base 
my description, whether, in looking at the world, Gaston (as I shall 
call him now) was astonished to find it still there or disappointed 
to find it still unchanged. 

In the following spring — May, 1940 — an event occurred which 
was considerably more momentous than the postcard, not only for 
Gaston but for everyone in his part of the world. Of course, it had 
happened before; many times; but human beings are by nature 
perennially unprepared. They possess what the other animals have 
never required — hope. In consequence, when the armies of the 
Third Reich crossed the border from Belgium there was a good 
deal of flurry-scurry-worry-hurry among the civilian inhabitants of 
the northern French provinces. I needn't describe it. We have seen 
it in the movies, read of it in hundreds of novels and memoirs: 
panic and despair, recounted in tones of monotonously convincing 
anguish by people who, unlike me, were actually there. Mme. Du- 
Pont gathered together her two children and a few belongings, and 
headed down the road toward Reims in the family's ancient 
Renault. The highway was crowded with other fugitives, driving 
was difficult, and in any event the car conked out after a mile or 
two, owing to a broken fan belt. The three DuPonts got out and 
walked; they were enlightened a half hour later when their car 
clanked past them, filled to bursting with ripe-red farm women and 
driven by a lusty 4F'er — I don't know the French term — who had 
no doubt got the generator going by substituting his shoelaces or 
a piece of suspender for the broken belt. 

Night on the roadside: cold dew, hard stones. Blisters. A sip of 
fiery cognac in the stomach. How many kilometres to Reims? 
Hunger! — that is an awful word. And then, inevitably, the motor- 
ized German troops overtook them, scattering them like chickens. 
There was some shooting, I gather, and artillery fire in the dis- 
tance; and weeping was heard — occasionally screams. Gaston lost 
his mother and Angelique, and took up with a well dressed, middle- 
aged woman who was slightly dotty and kept brushing her muddy 

76 



tweed skirt with a silver-backed comb; she had a large purse full of 
chocolate bars. Then he lost her too, and wandered by himself for 
two days among the increasingly tattered, fear-ridden crowds, one 
of thousands of detached, filthy, and (at that point in history) 
absolutely useless little boys. He never got to Reims. 

Instead he was picked up by a German supply outfit moving 
east from Karlsruhe to join the main forces in the push toward the 
coast. Anyone who has ever served in an occupying army knows 
what happened; Gaston was adopted as the mascot of the enlisted 
ranks, the errand boy, the jester, sometimes the scapegoat. He was 
fitted out with a cut-down uniform — soldiers in the services of 
supply live well and enjoy plenty of graft. He lived by his wit, 
learning quickly that when he could make his benefactors laugh at 
him it was usually good for a cigarette and sometimes a gulp of 
wine. On the whole the Germans treated Gaston well and were, I 
imagine, genuinely fond of him. He was blond and thin and tough, 
or soon became so. In later years, when anyone spoke of Nazi 
brutalities in his presence, Gaston would look uncomfortable; the 
kindnesses done to him by the German soldiers, his surrogate 
fathers and brothers, simply didn't match up with what he learned 
later of Dachau, Buchenwald, and the rest — not that he doubted 
the facts of Nazi history, or had any sympathy with the doctrines 
upon which it was based. . . . The supply outfit moved across 
France by fits and starts, and came to rest in late summer on the 
outskirts of Honneur, where it remained until the Allied invasion 
somewhat less than four years later; it was part of the huge organiz- 
ation assembled, with Teutonic proficiency, to supply the Nor- 
mandy defense establishments, its sphere of action being the 
production of bread — large, round, mealy loaves. Gaston throve. 
Shoes were his main difficulty, but the soldiers chipped in to buy 
him secondhand boots on the local market. He was clever; learned 
to speak German quickly; learned the military argot — its filth, its 
sex-hunger. As I say, anyone who has served in an army overseas 
knows the type: native boys living virtually as soldiers, begging, 
stealing, fighting. Gaston worked in the kitchens, measuring out 
the powdered eggs, tipping hot loaves onto the cooling racks. He 
spoke quietly, I think, but sharply when necessary; he was serious 
and somewhat melancholy, and perhaps was the special friend of 

77 



the middle-aged men in the outfit, those with sons of their own at 
home. By the time of the Normandy invasion, he was fifteen years 
old — tall, stooped, hollow-cheeked; blond hair combed back with 
water from his wide forehead; dark blue eyes with thin, sleepy lids 
and a slight tic that came on in the right eye during periods of 
anxiety or fatigue. 

How we are betrayed by our suffering! Gaston knew it. He was 
ashamed of that tic for the rest of his life; a relic of a boy's long- 
ings. I believe he actually came to think that the tic in a sense was 
not a true part of himself. Perhaps it wasn't. Nevertheless, we can 
imagine the biography of that tic. 

When Allied troops landed in Normandy, Gaston's friends soon 
knew that they would be on the move again, and they knew that 
Gaston had no place in the disorganized ranks of a retreating army 
— like all enlisted men, they could smell defeat before the generals 
could plot it on their charts. At the same time, the Germans were 
well acquainted with the plight of neutrals caught between oppos- 
ing armies; they couldn't leave Gaston behind, couldn't merely let 
go of him, like a lizard letting go of a useless tail caught in the 
mouth of an adversary. Gaston was piled aboard a supply truck 
bound for the rear, his tiny bundle of belongings hanging from 
his hand, and dropped at an orphanage near Rouen, where the 
good sisters were charged on pain of imminent debauch with his 
welfare and tutelage. (Why does the German imagination fail at 
the crucial moment?) Life in the orphanage, where most of the 
inmates were younger than he, was dull, prim, unattractive — a 
continual exacerbation after the rude amiability of the bakery. 
Gaston was depressed. Once more he felt completely unattached. 
The good sisters — perhaps they rejected his German auspices, per- 
haps they were simply too busy with their other charges — made no 
effort to capture his affection or even his approval. Hardbitten 
souls they were, like all God's functionaries. Gaston stood it for 
eight days. Then he departed, choosing the same means that others 
had chosen before him: he began running, over the fence and 
through the fields and woods, and he kept on running until he 
dropped; whereupon he looked around and discovered that there 
were no pursuers. They hadn't bothered. It was a flight of despair, 
of course, an escape less from the orphanage than from . . . war, 

78 



homelessness, fear, the whole unbelievable chaos of his life. After 
three days of wandering, he found himself at dusk behind the 
American lines, coming out of a wood on the road from Caudebec, 
though he had no idea where he was at the time: soaked, starved, 
without hope. The road was crowded with military vehicles of all 
descriptions, convoy after convoy grinding over the mired pave- 
ment toward the lines. Rain fell continuously but, it seemed, slowly 
— like the confetti Gaston had once seen in the square at Charle- 
ville on a July 14th: a gelid, numbing confetti that for some reason 
smelled like camphor. Gaston turned in his sodden shoes; headed 
down the roadside in the direction from which the trucks were 
moving; shuffled through the dank weeds and black mud. He 
walked for a long, long time. He knew he was going to die. At 
intervals he became exceedingly frightened, and his heart jumped 
like a fish. Between times, he examined his fear and decided it was 
nothing: he would get through this dying somehow. Eventually 
he came to an intersection. 

The trucks like great beasts of labor plodded toward the cross- 
road from two directions, rain streaming from their gray tar- 
paulined flanks; they converged, exchanged lowering nods of 
recognition, and lumbered off again in the two remaining direc- 
tions, lurching and sighing. The pavement cracked under their 
weight; cakes of ancient asphalt skittered away, escaping the pres- 
sure of a monstrous tread. Mud oozed from the holes. A human 
figure stood in the middle, faceless, clad entirely in rubber, wordless, 
communicating solely by means of a red flashlight, directing the 
beasts to their proper destinations. Any one of them could have 
trampled him squashily into the mire in an instant; but they obeyed 
him unresistingly, like brokenhearted elephants, and their despair 
was imparted to the scene at large — the teary roadway, the listless 
sea-creature in the center with one bloodshot eye swaying at the 
end of an anguished peduncle, the black untrimmed privet thrust- 
ing choric hands toward the sky at the edge of the lighted area. 

The minds of soldiers are blunted — at some cost — to such senti- 
ments, however, and the group at the side of the road was cheerful 
enough. Three more fish: gleaming in rubber capes and hats with 
long downswept brims. One was asleep in the back of a jeep parked 
halfway in the privet hedge, and the other two, a sergeant and a 

79 



pfc, squatted on either side of a number eight can of burning 
diesel oil; the smoke coiled upward blackly, greasily. Gaston ap- 
proached. He stopped ten yards away and stood. "Hey, you 
Frenchy." The sergeant's grunt could have been a question, an 
exclamation, or possibly a command. 

Gaston said nothing. 

"You francais?" the sergeant said, a question this time, elab- 
orately and incorrectly pronounced. 

Gaston raised and lowered his head once. His hair clung in 
gluey fingers over his eyes. 

The sergeant took a Hershey bar out of the interior of his cape 
and held it out toward Gaston. When Gaston didn't move, the 
sergeant made a tossing movement with his hand. "Here," he said, 
"take it." 

Gaston came forward, took the chocolate bar, retired a step or 
two away, and squatted. With an exaggerated gesture, the sergeant 
waved him closer to the fire. Gaston came forward, squatted again, 
and began to take the paper off the chocolate. "Danke schon," 
he said. 

The sergeant looked up quickly, moving only his eyes — like 
someone in a movie. "Hey, you hear that?" he said to the private. 
"I fought he said he was a wog. Huh? That's kraut talk." 

"Yeah," the private said. 

"A spy or somethin' maybe, huh?" 

"Ain't old enough." 

"Yeah." 

"Anyways he wouldn't be walkin' around like a busted duck, 
would he?" 

"Yeah." 

The private lit a cigarette, drew on it as if he were going to eat 
the smoke, then held it cupped under his palm against the rain. 
Some seconds later he exhaled noisily; practically no smoke came 
out; perhaps he did eat it. The sergeant rubbed his nose with the 
knuckles of his hand. "I don't like it," he said. "I'm gonna call in." 

"Yeah," the private said. 

The sergeant went to the jeep, sat in the front seat, took off 
his hat, picked up a walkie-talkie from a case under the dash; 
eventually he said, "Yeah, it's me. Lemme talk to the lieutenant . . . 

80 



Yeah, it's me . . . Yeah, they're rolling now okay. Had a six-by 
with a busted axle; nothin' special . . . Yeah, look, I got a kid here, 
you know, says he's a frogeater, but I dunno, he talks kraut, you 
know? — somethin' screwy, Lieutenant, yeah, that's right, he talks 
kraut, like I told you . . . You want I should hang onto him, 
huh? . . . Yessir . . . Yessir, okay, yessir, I can handle him . . . Naw, 
just a punk kid, that's all, says he's a frogeater, but I dunno . . . 
Yessir." 

When the sergeant came back to the fire, he said, "Talked to 
Sinky. He's coming down. Says to keep a lid on this motherfucker. 
You know?" 

"Yeah." 

"That's all, just keep a lid on him, you know?" 

"Yeah." 

"That's all." 

"Yeah. . . . Say, if the frogeater's a spy or somethin', he can 
probly talk American too. You think so?" 

"Yeah " 

The sergeant edged three inches backward, rocking on his hams. 

"Yeah," he said. 



81 



CHAPTER 17 



First Lieutenant Stanislas Pawel Cienkiewycz was called Pawel 
by his mother, Stanko by his father, Espy by Frank Lloyd Wright 
(under whom he had studied at Taliesin), Stan by his friends, and 
Sinky or Stinko or Stinkopisser by the men of his command; since 
these last were terms of affection, they were never in any circum- 
stances used for direct address. Nevertheless, Cienkiewycz knew 
about them, and was justifiably proud of them. Both he and the 
men who served under him were secretly but gravely embarrassed 
at having been assigned to the Military Police in the first instance, 
but Cienkiewycz, a man of sense as well as sensibility, had man- 
aged in the course of a year and a half to soothe the feelings of 
injury among the ranks. He had brought his company to a state 
of functional well-being which pleased both his architectural and 
his military temperaments. He was well liked. At the same time, he 
was an advocate of good discipline, which he defined as an amiable 
but rational differentiation of authority. He had learned very early 
the first rule for being a good company commander: to make 
known to one's men the low regard in which one holds the foolish 
commands which come down from above, but to do so in such a 
manner as not to forfeit the authoritativeness of one's own foolish 
commands. He was tall, square-jawed, blue-eyed, and thirty-five 
years old; his hair was dead white and cut close to his skull. He had 
been born and raised in Gary, Indiana, and had been a junior 
partner in a firm of architects in Chicago before he had entered 
military service. 

Who ever heard of a square-jawed Pollack? A just and inevitable 

82 



reproach. The lieutenant, however, had inherited his jaw from his 
mother, tenderhearted Mme. Cienkiewycz, whose maiden name 
was Gauss and who was a native of the easterly village of Parchwitz. 
Thus Pawel, through his mother, bestowed supplemental honor 
upon the village otherwise esteemed as the birthplace of Field 
Marshall Hermann von Kesten-Kesten Schlie, hero of Martz-Les- 
tray, and Fraulein Rose Marie Dorn, the Silesian Sleeping Beauty. 



83 



CHAPTER 18 



The lieutenant's jeep bumped down the edge of the roadway, 
past the column of trucks. Cienkiewycz was driving. He was a good 
driver, and he hunched forward over the wheel, peering through 
the clear fanlight left by the windshield wiper on the muddy glass. 
The other wiper wasn't working; the blade was gone and the nub 
of the bare wiper arm squeaked back and forth over the glass, leav- 
ing a thin arc traced in the mud: the private who sat in the pas- 
senger's seat couldn't see anything ahead, hadn't been able to see 
anything ahead for weeks, possibly months, and in consequence sat 
like the Detroit-bred quietist he was, his hands in the pockets of 
his field jacket, his eyelids lowered, his head flouncing with the 
jeep's saltatory progress, his expression denoting utter composure 
and faith in whatever dispositions of wayfarer's luck Providence had 
arranged for the highway ahead of him — all this with a dead cigar 
stub set squarely between his teeth. He said nothing; he seldom 
did: his miltary career consisted entirely in listening to the lieu- 
tenant. He cherished the hope that if he listened well enough he 
would eventually become a corporal. 

Cienkiewycz said: "Nothing to it, nothing to it, what would a 
German agent be doing wandering around in — blast and digitalisl" 
He rammed the jeep into second and climbed out of a pothole. 
"It's all foolishness . . . like everything else in this — move over, you 
crystalline crump-head, you — " Etc., etc. — mumble, mumble, mum- 
ble. He punched the horn button savagely; nothing happened. 
"Wozzeck, why in hell don't you fix this three-cornered horn, why 
in hell don't you fix that croxy windshield wiper, why in hell don't 
you get up off your pneumatic duff once in a while?" The private, 

84 



whose name was Woodside, said nothing. The windshield wiper 
said squeak, squeak, squeak, squeak. A drop of rainwater fell from 
the jeep's soaked top and ran down Cienkiewycz's nose. 

One of the points of military life which disturbed Cienkiewycz 
especially was the unimaginativeness of the swearing. He made up 
his own as he went along. 

Headlights: saffron tusks drooping toward earth. Taillights: a 
line of creeping ladybugs. The pavement: gray as a whaleback. The 
rain: ten thousand tiny entrechats on the roadway. As in certain 
surrealist paintings, the alien images were unified in the prevailing 
tendresse. 

The jeep lurched finally into the roadside clearing where Gaston 
was being kept, unknowingly, under a lid. Cienkiewycz said bless- 
ings-on-thee-little-jeep under his breath, reached into the back for 
his rain hat, clambered out, looked ruefully at the pot of smoking 
oil, thought instantaneously of his wife's lobster casserole, and squat- 
ted in true soldierly fashion — vide Xenophon — beside the sergeant. 
He picked up a wet pebble and threw it into the can of burning oil. 
"Keeps it from boiling over," he said, wondering if it did. The 
stone hissed, the pot emitted a gasp of steam. "Now what the hell 
is this parboiled crap about a German spy?" 

"It's like I said, lieutenant, this here frogeater, when I ast him 
somethin', ya know what I mean? — he answers Dutchy like, he 
don't talk frog, I mean he just comes out with this here kraut talk 
without thinkin' like, ya know what I mean? — so I figures he's a 
kraut maybe, just off his guard a minute maybe, or somethin'." 

"Him?" Cienkiewycz pointed his thumb at Gaston. 

"Yeah, lieutenant, that's him. Like I said, he just come up like 
from down the road there, ya know what I mean? — just come up 
out of nowhere. And he looks kinda punchy so I gives him a 
Hershey bar, ya know what I mean? — and then he says . . . aw, you 
know, kraut talk, I kin tell it was kraut right away, ya know — " 

"What'd he say?" 

"Aw, lieutenant, how do I know, huh? Kraut talk, that's all. 
Donkey shayne — somethin' like that, how do I know, huh?" 

"Take a look at him, sergeant." 

"Who, him?" 

"Yeah, the kid." 

The sergeant looked at Gaston across the smoking pot, and Gas- 

85 



ton looked back. The sergeant blinked, but Gaston did not. Gaston 
peered from hollow eyes between the streaming twists of his hair, 
pale and thin. His expression seemed at the same time much older 
and much younger than his fifteen years. 

Then the sergeant blinked a couple of times at Cienkiewycz too. 
"Aw, ya know, I wasn't sure, ya know what I mean? — I was jest 
trying not to make no goofs, like you said, lieutenant, ya know 
what I mean? — in case some of them frogeaters turn out to be — " 

"Okay." Cienkiewycz turned toward Gaston. "Na du." 

" 'NT Abend." Gaston spoke in a low voice. 

"Bist du ein Deutscher?" 

"Nein." 

"Was bist du denn?" 

"Ich bin ein Francose." 

"Porquoi parley-vouz en l'Allemagne?" The lieutenant's French 
wasn't up to his — or his mother's — German. 

"Ah, monsieur le capitan," Gaston began. But he stopped; the 
effort was too great, he was too tired, what could it matter anyway? 
And his French came back to him in formal phrases, hard to search 
for. 

"Ich bin ein Leutnant," Cienkiewycz said, reverting to German. 
"Wie heisst du denn, Junge?" His tone softened and he smiled. 

Gaston murmured: "Je suis appelle Gaston, monsieur le lieu- 
tenant." 

"Okay. Komm mit mir, Gaston." 

Cienkiewycz stood up, and with a small friendly gesture waved 
Gaston toward the jeep. Gaston climbed in the back. "Wozzeck, 
give the kid your jacket." At first Gaston refused it — "Non, mon- 
sieur" — but put it on when Cienkiewycz said, "Nimm's schon." 
Cienkiewycz took off his rain hat, lit a cigarette, started the motor, 
then turned and shouted to the sergeant: "It's all right, it's okay. 
Carry on. When's your relief due?" But he revved the motor and 
drowned the sergeant's answer. "Don't shoot till you see the 
whites," he muttered, and drove off with a wave of his hand, 
headed back in the direction from which he had come. 

The sergeant looked at the private. "You hear that, huh? You 
hear the lieutenant talkin' Dutchy with that there kid? What you 
think, huh — Sinky's a goddamn kraut too!" 

86 



CHAPTER 19 



November 30, 1961. I write down the date — thus unapologeti- 
cally — at the top of the page. By way of apology, however. Indirect 
apology and, of course, confession — a confession that time has 
flown and I have been lazy. Pages have been written, read, rewrit- 
ten, and torn up, all to no end but worry. . . . But really, there's no 
point in going into all that. 

The summer went quickly, far more quickly than I have been 
used to, and now autumn has ended too. A late autumn this year, 
here in the hills; the brilliant colors lasted until nearly Thanksgiv- 
ing, and there were many warm days when hazy sunlight filled the 
meadow and it would have been foolish not to go out and savor the 
smoky air under the hemlocks, not to go out and watch the apple 
tree twisting and flaunting its brilliant skirts in the sunlight. You 
would have too. One day there was a girl who came wandering in 
the dimness behind the hemlocks, toward the woods; a thin, pale 
wisp of a girl; and she didn't see me at first, as she stepped here 
and there in the duskiness, touching the branches with her finger- 
tips — a girl white and pallid moving behind the line of trees, as if 
she were an understudy waiting in the wings, dancing alone, hidden 
from the audience, while the red apple tree danced in the sun. But 
I was there. 

She and I spent many afternoons together under the hemlocks, 
where the Indian pipe and false beech drops gathered shyly, accord- 
ing their lovely pallid grace to the needle-strewn earth. Wonderful 
afternoons. I almost forgot Charley. . . . No, that isn't true. I was 
driven as always; driven each morning to these pages, laboring 

87 



among the words, sending out my sentences like little desperate 
sallies into the no-man's-land of memory, patrols ordered into ac- 
tion by an insane general. Not much was accomplished. The terrain 
had been familiar but seems strangely altered now, and remem- 
bered impressions aren't verified by our reports. There is a good 
deal of confusion. I'm told that this is the sort of indeterminate 
stage which occurs sooner or later in every campaign. I would have 
been quite lost without Linda's help. 

Not that she could give actual assistance in these difficult mat- 
ters. Even if she knew anything concerning them, which would be 
impossible, what could she do? — poor Linda, deaf and dumb, as 
silent as the trees, as unlettered as the earth. Nevertheless, as you 
can imagine, she helped. The help she gave required no speech 
between us; and although I would not have thought this possible 
before, it really is better — more lucid, more intelligent — for having 
no intrusion of words. 

Her name, as you see, is Linda. And she is deaf and dumb. Those 
are the indispensable data. 

Now the cold weather has come, a sudden descent from the 
north, cracking the air, making the cottage creak and groan. Snow 
fell all night. The valley is thickly white, the apple tree black and 
contorted. The chorus of hemlocks stands bowed on either side 
beneath the heavy mantles of snow. Linda is staying here now. A 
day or two after she came, her father, who is a farmer this side of 
Goshen, arrived at the cottage in a quarter-ton truck, bringing a 
smell of manure. He wore overalls, rimless spectacles, and a long- 
billed cap pulled down close to his eyes. I was scared stiff; but he 
said: "It ain't proper, mister, but I'm obliged to you. Keep her as 
long as you like." He handed down to me a cardboard box of 
Linda's "things" — a red plastic hairbrush, two dough-colored 
dresses and some other garments, a china dog, a mirror, a bundle of 
picture postcards done up with elastic, a calendar for 1957, a 
Copenhagen snuff tin filled with pebbles, a tennis ball, and her 
bells. Bells are Linda's obsession, which is natural enough if you 
consider that the only sound she has ever "heard" were the bells at 
Kent School years ago: by accident she and her family — their old 
Model A having come to an inglorious halt on Route 7 — were 
present when the change ringers were at practice. Her collection 

88 



includes dinner bells, cowbells, the fake Hindu bells that hang on a 
colored ribbon, Chinese gongs, a locomotive bell, little brass bells, 
a child's glockenspiel, a cracked wooden bell, a bicycle bell, some 
broken wind chimes, several glass bells, even a pastel print of 
Canterbury bells in bloom. None of these produces enough reso- 
nance — except possibly the last — to penetrate her deafness, of 
course, yet she can at least imagine their sound. No other sound 
is conceivable in her mind. Her favorite bell is in the form of a 
doll: a head and body of stuffed cloth with a cloth skirt which 
covers a bell of crudely cast bronze. When she turns from me to 
fall asleep, this doll-bell is clutched to her breast, though now 
somewhat heedlessly; and later in the night it sometimes falls to 
the floor, making a sound like a dull thud, which awakens me. The 
first time I woke with this sound in my ears I thought of a skull 
falling, and I have never been able to keep from thinking the same 
thing each time since. But Linda never stirs. 



89 



CHAPTER 20 



The static hysteria — I pick up my thread as well as I can — of the 
confrontation across the pot of fuming oil had stiffened Gaston's 
tic to a point of feldspathic rigidity: he had been damn near 
fossilized. In the jeep, however, his rigor melted and his tic came 
to life, like a minnow emerging from the mud. He hunched him- 
self forward on the seat so that he could rest his head on his hand, 
his elbow on his knee — immemorial stance of le penseur, decidedly 
uncomfortable in a lurching jeep; but what else was there to do? 
So he reasoned; he must cover the tic. Immediately his fantasy took 
up the whiplash of his fear. "Whatsa matter?" the lieutenant 
would say. "You sick?" And Gaston would murmur: "Non, mon- 
sieur." They would be watching him covertly; he would faint; they 
would stop the jeep; they would throw him into the — no, no, no, 
they wouldn't do that, they would take him to the hospital, yes, and 
the doctors would assemble over him, talking, talking, talking, and 
there would be bright lights, a bad smell, and then questions, 
questions. . . . 

His lower eyelid jumped and jumped but could not get free, a 
silvery fish in a net. 

Shame, shame. And bitterness, the fruit of shame. They deter- 
mined the form of Gaston's life, of course. As they determine the 
form of nearly all our lives. 

In point of fact, however, the lieutenant and the private up 
front paid no attention at all to Gaston, nor to each other appar- 
ently, and the jeep pitched and slued through the wet night, slith- 
ering down the highway like a pine chip in a rapids. Traffic was 

90 



heavy, mostly moving against them — the convoys of elephantine 
trucks — but some were going in their direction too, and several 
times the jeep squirted past a slower vehicle with a veering and 
swooping motion, grazing hedges, leaping ditches with a club- 
footed pounce; and Gaston's head would bob, his chin would 
crunch into his palm, his elbow would slip from his knee. Fantasy: 
his head came off and rolled on the floor of the jeep and came to 
rest face up, the tic twitching feebly like a stranded minnow in the 
ebbing wave of a truck's headlight. . . . Once or twice the jeep 
stopped and the lieutenant got out to conduct his unknown busi- 
ness; Gaston did not look up. He did not look up when at last the 
jeep squished through the mud of a farmyard and halted by a 
whitewashed door: the motor died, coughing, and the headlights 
decayed swiftly in the darkness of mud and of black, gnarled apple 
boughs. They were in a small courtyard. The lieutenant and the 
private climbed out — skillfully; swinging their feet clear and alight- 
ing with one experienced leap — and Gaston clambered after them, 
and cracked his dome against the plexiglass side screen. "Scheiss- 
dreck," he said. 

The lieutenant hesitated an instant in his gait, then shambled 
on toward the whitewashed door. "Alas," he said softly and sadly, 
"goddamn and alas." 

The farm had been commandeered by Cienkiewycz for his tem- 
porary headquarters, and he stepped into the kitchen without 
knocking. A frightened French farmer and his indignant wife sat 
side by side on a bench in one corner, while a private in a muddy 
field jacket typed on a portable typewriter at the white enamel-top 
table in the center of the room. A stove at one side gave off 
warmth. Gaston spent the night in the farmhouse. With scarcely 
a word the American soldiers befriended him — an alien kindness he 
could not understand after his recent experiences, though it 
brought him within a few minutes a change to dry clothing, a box 
of K-rations, a blanket, and a bed on a horsehair sofa in another 
room. Gaston was close to dangerous exhaustion. Before he went 
to bed, however, he ate the K-rations, slowly, methodically, and 
completely — canned egg-and-bacon, hardtack, salt, everything; and 
he smoked the two cigarettes, and he chewed the chewing gum, 
and he looked thoughtfully and perhaps sorrowfully at the toilet 

91 



paper before putting it away in his shirt pocket. Then he went to 
bed. The rough fabric of the sofa's ancient upholstery briefly 
burned his cheek, and he sighed and slept the sleep of the just, the 
poor, and the ignorant everywhere. 

By what warrant, you may be asking, do I declare Gaston at this 
time — years before I knew him — either just or poor or ignorant? 
How can I presume, for that matter, to reconstruct events, thoughts, 
and utterances so far removed from myself, never heard, never 
seen, never felt by me? It is a question of some importance; not to 
be answered by mere recourse to "the artist's prerogative," or other 
such metaphysical nugacities. Believe, if you like, that I am drawing 
reasonable inferences from skeletal data furnished to me by Gaston 
himself in later years. Me, I'm not so sure. I may have been present 
at these events after all. Very likely I was. Perhaps I was even 
Gaston himself. . . . Whatever the case may be, names are un- 
trustworthy. Consider Linda. Her "real" name is Lucinda-Mae: 
Cindy to the farmfolk and villagers, Crazy Cindy, wanderer of the 
weedy fields. I call her Linda. But what does she call herself? 
Remember, she has never heard any name that has ever been ad- 
dressed to her by anybody. Who is she then? The brutal kids from 
the farms call her Crazy Cindy to her face, her poor, mute, quies- 
cent face, but she has no ears to hear. Once I wrote "Linda" in big 
letters on a piece of wrapping paper, and pointed first to the name 
and then to her, pressing my finger against her breast. It was evi- 
dent that no connection formed in her mind. Horror of horrors, 
she does not know what a name is! ... It has been said sometimes 
that without a name a thing cannot exist. ... I wonder if, in put- 
ting my finger against her breast, I touched the right part? The 
conventional part, certainly. But she knows no convention. Where 
does her being lie? Should I have touched her belly, her forehead, 
her crotch, her hands — her hands upon whose senses she relies for 
so much? Perhaps I should have touched the bell-doll. I have been 
with her now for several weeks, and in fact I think there is real 
doubt that she knows who she is. How often she must question, 
too, how and why she is! — if she can ask questions at all. But 
although she may not know these things, I think she does have a 
strong sense of her external consciousness, and it lies in the bell, 
of course. In an esthetic sense only, if you like; but nevertheless far 

92 



more decisively, I should say, than a painter's self ever lies in his 
paintings, or a poet's in his poems. Perhaps on this account — her 
confidence in the bell — Linda is to be envied after all. . . . 

Let me get on, however. I can make short work of Gaston's life 
among the American soldiers. Really, there'd be no point in 
spinning it out; it is a familiar tale. He remained with the MP 
outfit until Christmas, 1945. I don't mean to suggest that the 
experience was uneventful, or that it was unimportant in the for- 
mation of Gaston's character; but what the hell? — I must get on to 
other things if I'm to make anything out of this levon at all. I shall 
say merely a word or two about the remaining eighteen months 
of Gaston's military service. 

Do not be taken unawares by the term. Military service was 
exactly what Gaston's life from age eleven to age seventeen was, 
and if he never fired a shot, neither did most other soldiers in that 
highly technological prelude to the push-button war which is com- 
ing up next. I myself sat at a desk in Casablanca for two years, 
ciphering and deciphering the pig-English in which generals strive 
to communicate with one another. 

The twisted routes of rear-line traffic which raddled Normandy 
and Brittany, like yarn tangled by a kitten, during the first weeks 
of the liberation of France were ultimately "stabilized" — the 
proper military procedure, viz. a ceaseless formalization of pande- 
monium. Lieutenant Cienkiewycz and his company were reassigned 
to duty in Cherbourg; the event was signalized by the commander's 
promotion to a captaincy. Police duty in the port city could be 
rigorous, since it consisted primarily in shepherding drunken sol- 
diers to the pokey, where they did not want to go. Gaston wasn't 
involved in this, of course, but was assigned to work in the com- 
pany compound — in the kitchen, in the motor pool, in the enlisted 
men's barracks, wherever he could be useful. Until his sixteenth 
birthday, he was retained on the same basis he had enjoyed among 
the Germans, i.e., company mascot, but when he became sixteen 
Cienkiewycz put him on the payroll as a civilian employee and 
found him a room with a nearby French family. Gaston learned 
English as quickly as he had learned German four years earlier, and 
he found that his old tricks served as well with the Americans as 
they had with his former benefactors: his grimaces, his jokes 

93 



against himself, his sly sarcasms at the expense of the officers or 
especially at the degradation of his own nationality, etc. — these 
brought him coins, cigarettes, gifts of candy. Never wine, though. 
Gaston was puzzled at first, just as he was puzzled when some of 
the MP's took him aside and admonished him not to use certain 
English terms which he heard commonly every day. He was a 
tough kid, and he knew it: a camp rat, a European rat, one of the 
swarming horde of rats that was scrounging, kicking, biting, scav- 
enging, from one end of the continent to the other, in every city, 
around every military installation; in his circumstances illusions 
were impossible and he knew quite well what he was. He would 
have known it even if his former benefactors, the Germans (Euro- 
peans themselves), hadn't told him continually. But the Ameri- 
cans? A deluded race — thinking a sixteen-year-old European rat 
fighting for every crumb he got should speak like a . . . well, like 
some sort of an American pussycat, scrubbed and brushed and tied 
with a ribbon; he had seen a photograph of such a cat in the Stars 
& Stripes. As for wine, their attitude was absurd, of course. The 
Americans only drank it to get drunk, he soon learned, and he 
longed to get drunk himself, but the older men in the outfit sought 
to prevent it. It took him somewhat longer to learn that this was 
because they were fathers and had sons in the States (as they called 
their home) whom they loved with a fury that was entirely beyond 
Gaston's comprehension. Still, he was more or less content, without 
wine and without the independence of will which he was, neverthe- 
less, beginning to covet secretly. 

It was the Americans, of course, who changed Gaston's name. 
"How come you call yourself that chicken name?" they said. 
Thenceforth he was Charley, short and simple — Charley Dupont. 
(The "p" got made a small letter at the same time.) And since 
that is the name by which I knew him later on, I'll revert to it now. 

Charley throve. A rat couldn't ask for better foraging. The de- 
luded Americans even made him an assistant in the distribution of 
PX supplies, until his thefts of candy and cigarettes and chewing 
gum became so embarrassing to everyone that only his summary 
reassignment to other duties could restore good form to the com- 
pound. It was done; but not before Charley had peddled his candy, 
cigarettes, and chewing gum to the underground merchants of 

94 



Cherbourg, certain tight-belt-and-fedora types who inhabited the 
purlieus adjacent to the waterfront. Alas, they cheated Charley, 
gave him short prices and short change. He had the heart for 
thievery, but not the head — at least that is what the men of the 
company believed. But Charley himself knew that his defeat at the 
hands of the sharpsters was also a failure of nerve, since their evil 
faces and abusive tongues invariably set loose his tic. That unnerv- 
ing twitch — like a worm of conscience dwelling in his eye — reduced 
him immediately to confusion and unfitness before the sharpsters. 
He also knew that the act of theft itself, stuffing the carton of 
Camels under his jacket, was no sign of bravery, but only a dream 
of greed, a fantasy of possessiveness, in which he, the actual pos- 
sessor of nothing at all, moved like an automaton toward objects 
that he could — might, would, should — identify as his own. Here he 
touched the heart of his attraction to the Americans, who had for 
him a quality far different from anything he had seen among the 
Germans or among his own people, that overrode their delusions, 
their foolishness, their sentimentality. Americans were possessors, 
whatever else they were. Such a treasure of goods. (Goodies, I 
almost wrote, because objects of possession always take on the 
aspect of candy in the minds of children, especially in the minds of 
the child-rats of Europe in 1944.) Here it becomes essential to make 
the distinction, usually overlooked by enthusiasts of the left, be- 
tween mere materialism in its various forms (greed, gluttony, 
venality, miserliness, the profit motive, the power drive, etc.) and 
possessorship as a means of self-identification — the search for an 
image of one's own being among the reflections (more properly, 
refractions) which are given off by the objects that belong to one. 
It's a two-way proposition: the objects which belong to us soon 
become the objects to which we belong. An adolescent proposition, 
too — granted. In his adolescent way, Charley could no more make 
the distinction between greed and knowledge than can the mate- 
rialists. Yet I think he probably recognized it, instinctively and in- 
articulately. He saw plenty of examples of the former among his 
American friends, I imagine, and heard plenty of talk about money, 
land, jobs — the usual GI gab; everyone is sure to make a million 
when the war is over. But he also heard some soldiers speak of their 
cars, for instance, in terms which indicated a personal identifica- 

95 



tion. The point is that Charley was precisely the same as every 
other European rat attached to an American outfit during the war: 
he thought the Americans were absurd in many respects, he re- 
sented their naivete and their excruciating tolerance; but he ad- 
mired, he passionately venerated and furiously hungered for, the 
qualities in American life which represented (to him) liberality, 
social confidence, independence, self-reliance, freedom (not ab- 
stractly, but the simple certainty of being able to arise and go), 
etc., etc., etc. 

Cienkiewycz was, and is, a case in point. Charley was devoted to 
him, and couldn't hear enough of the captain's stories of life at 
home. Not that Cienkiewycz was boastful; it wasn't his nature, and 
besides, the truth (to the extent it could be seized and communi- 
cated, viz. so far as the European mind was concerned, only in 
terms of lies) was enough to satisfy Charley. The captain had 
entered this life in the Polish quarter of the proletarian section of 
Gary, Indiana; a town whose proletarian section occupies virtually 
everything within the city limits. There he observed a number of 
seriocomic episodes, beginning with November 11, 1919, and con- 
tinuing through the White Sox scandal, Seventh Heaven, Teapot 
Dome, Coue, Dempsey-Firpo, "Keep Cool with Coolidge," Miss 
Ederle, the Spirit of St. Louis, Sacco-Vanzetti, Kellogg-Briand, St. 
Valentine's Day, the Sweeps, Max Schmeling, the Bonus March, 
Technocracy, a Century of Progress, etc.; some of these impressed 
him, but none so deeply as his reading, in 1923, Sir Henry M. 
Stanley's In Darkest Africa, upon which he resolved ( 1 ) to stay at 
home and (2) to eschew any form of corporate enterprise. (This is 
an exaggerated statement, naturally; yet these elements of the 
captain's personality were the most conspicuous, at least in 
Charley's eyes, and accounted for the appeal which the captain 
exerted on Charley's imagination: perhaps it is permissible to ex- 
plain them in terms of the successive simplifications of the captain's 
explanation to Charley and Charley's later explanation to me.) 
Late one wintry afternoon, while his mother was stirring the 
Kartoffelsuppe which steamed greasily in its black pot, he asked her 
what she thought was the best work a man might do, and she said: 
"Building houses — ja, Pawel, dos ist eine gute Arbeit, natiirlich" — 
an answer which met well with his own predilections, as she knew. 

96 



No need to chronicle the steps by which young Cienkiewycz rose 
from a flaking company house in Gary to a splendid home of his 
own design in Palos Park. It is the American story par excellence. 
Charley was fascinated by it, however, and heard it, in bits and 
snatches, many times during his conversations with the captain; he 
was at the same time deeply moved and involuntarily skeptical; the 
notion that the education of a professional man could be obtained 
by a poor boy — this was what took hold of him, lifted him up like 
a pair of tongs, and deposited him in America; all in his daydreams 
of course — and in nightdreams too — long before the possibility of 
an actual emigration was even remotely considered. He memorized 
the names of the Illinois Institute of Technology, the Art Institute, 
and Taliesen. 

Cienkiewycz's protective attitude toward Charley wasn't apparent 
to the boy. Often he didn't see the captain for days; like any good 
soldier he stayed away from the orderly room as much as possible. 
But then would come a day when the captain intercepted Charley 
on a walk across the compound or found him in the motor pool 
when he dropped off his jeep, and the two would talk for a while 
— ten minutes, twenty minutes— exploring their common mystery. 
For Cienkiewycz asked as many questions as he answered: about 
Charley's parents, about the Germans, about the boy's plans, etc. 
A casual relationship; nothing forced or awkward, nothing that on 
the face of it looked like concern or sentiment. The captain was 
adept at establishing, with no more than a word or gesture, a sense 
of private understanding; it was part of his skill as a military com- 
mander — and as an architect. The men of the company were 
perceptive, and maybe a bit jealous, though the word would have 
alarmed them. Moments of cruelty occurred. Their nicknames for 
Charley weren't always friendly. Frenchy and Frogeater were the 
least objectionable from his point of view; but he didn't like Winky, 
especially when it was joined meaningfully with Sinky, and for a 
while he even took pains to avoid the captain. The men found 
other means of touching his sensitivity too: they sent him with 
messages to Mimette, the whore whom they particularly favored, 
and then when he returned gave him the invariable greeting, "Hey, 
Winky, get yours yet?"— accompanied by a leer and, if possible, a 
goose. Charley, who had the translucency of all Lorrainaise, blushed 

97 



uncontrollably, and his eye twitched. Finally, ashamed and afraid, 
he paid Mimette the necessary two hundred francs and did what 
had to be done, with all the horrid clumsiness of the initiatory 
ordeal. Mimette was decent enough, then, to give the word to let 
up. "Sonna my beech," she remarked, "why dohn yuh leefa da kid 
alone, huh?" Mimette was Italian, and her real name was Gelinda 
Nanni: she enjoyed her work immensely, and so did her clients, 
with the result that her commands, including this one, were usually 
obeyed. 

What the hell? — Charley had no complaint whose gravamen 
could be more than yours or mine, the rot that sets in when a 
foetus is exposed to the sugary air. The attitude of cruelty did not 
prevail among all the men of the company, nor (probably) among 
any of them all the time. Charley had a lucky deal and he knew it. 

The war passed. That is to say, the days, weeks, and months 
passed while the war remained eternal; and then suddenly and un- 
expectedly, like the first day of spring in Finland, it ended. On 
V-E Day, Charley got drunk, again on V-J Day; no one minded, 
no one tried to prevent it. He was very sick; he had no judgment 
whatever about how many portions of clobber juice he could safely 
put down his gullet (that being the name for canned American 
beer and 100-proof French neutral spirits mixed two to one). His 
actual capacity was about half a canteen cup. After the jubilation 
and the hangovers, life in the MP company returned much to 
normal; the same duties persisted in peace or war, so long as 
American troops were in Cherbourg. By autumn, 1945, the rotation 
of old-timers in the outfit began, new replacements arrived, 
strangers to Charley and everyone else; strangers also to war and 
the atmosphere of war. Soon most of the ranks were new. Charley 
carried on, almost friendless now, serving in the kitchen, the motor 
pool, wherever he was asked, but simply as another civilian em- 
ployee earning his pittance, a human anonymity expected to give 
the proper conditioned response to the slightest administration of 
such stimuli as "Come on, you!" or "Hey, you Frenchy bastard, 
quit dragging your ass!" It was humiliating, of course, and Charley, 
like the others, soon had had enough; but it was difficult to break 
away — he had no money, no connections. He spent less and less 
time in the compound, more and more with French friends and 

98 



acquaintances; but most of these in one way or another were de- 
pendent on the Americans too, and suffered the same humiliations 
and despairs, without any source of relief except what they found, 
or at any rate sought, in sitting around and bitching. Charley was 
not the sort who got much help from this. 

One sallow November afternoon he was standing nervelessly in a 
downfall of graupel, squeezing his toes to relish the icy fluid that 
oozed from his socks, wishing he had a cigarette. The juice in his 
shoes swished like brine in a barrel; his toes were pickles — numb, 
warty dills. It was the weather, not of war, but of the peace that 
comes after a war — hunger, dishevelment, a fuming impatience. 
The captain sauntered by, slouching inside his glossy pancho. He 
stood beside Charley and offered him a cigarette. They both 
smoked, cupping the cigarettes against the wetness, blowing out 
periodic bolls of smoke. After several inconsequential remarks, 
Cienkiewycz came to his subject: "I'll be pulling out tomorrow, 
Charley. My number's up." Charley had known it was coming 
sooner or later; it was a part of the new order of existence — uncer- 
tainty, changeableness. Cienkiewycz laid his left palm gently on the 
back of Charley's shoulder. "Til miss seeing you, Charley." 

"Yes, yes, I. . . ." Charley stopped, not from embarrassment or 
emotion but from inexperience. 

"What are you going to do, Charley? Going home?" 

Charley shrugged, hitching both hands upward in his sleeves — 
a pointed Gallicism. 

"Not much use?" The captain caught himself shrugging too. 
"Look, Charley," he said, "why not come to the States? It could be 
fixed up." 

"Sure," Charley said. 

"No, I mean it. Lots of people will be coming soon, after things 
shake down a bit. When I'm discharged and get back on the 
job — " he waved his hand expansively, trailing an arc of cigarette 
smoke in the granular air " — well, I think I'll be able to guarantee 
you employment — a job — one way or another. That's the main 
thing — to have somebody stand up for you. I'll put through the 
papers when I get home, soon as I find out what they are. Okay?" 

"Sure, Captain," Charley said. "Who wouldn't like to go to the 
States?" 

99 



"Some people I know." 

"You?" 

"Maybe." Cienkiewycz Gl'd his butt meticulously. "It isn't all 
black and white, Charley. You think America's great. So do I, but 
— Fve got the right to think so, because I know all the lousy things 
about it too. But you haven't got that right yet. Anyway it's not 
going to be what you think, you can count on that. Maybe there 
would be good reasons to stay here." He waved his hand again, 
indicating the gray buildings, the wet air growing like lichen on 
pavement and lamppost. 

Charley shrugged. 

"Hard to tell," the captain said. 

Charley shrugged. 

"Everything's a blue-fingered mess now anyway. Isn't it? Who 
knows what to think?" 

"Captain," Charley said, studying his pickled toes, "will you 
write to me when you get home?" 

"Of course, Charley, of course." Cienkiewycz removed his hand 
from Charley's shoulder, an instinctive gesture of sincerity. "Of 
bloody damn archepiscopal course!" He saw that most of what he'd 
said hadn't been taken seriously by Charley. He stamped his 
squushy boot and turned away, looking back toward the motor- 
pool shack. 

Charley wasn't surprised at the outburst. 

"Of course, of course," Cienkiewycz said. "And my wife too." 
He took a pack of cigarettes from his inner pocket and stuffed it 
into the breast pocket of Charley's tunic. He took out a notebook 
and wrote in it and tore out the page and handed it to Charley. 
"Look, Charley, you come to the States, see? To Chicago. Here's 
my address. Remember, I'll always do what I can for you — under- 
stand? I mean it. But you'll have to write first, because I won't 
know where to reach you. You can't stay here, the outfit'll be gone 
soon — another month or two probably, no more. And I won't be 
home for a while either, lot of red tape to get through yet. Will 
you write?" 

"Yes, Captain," Charley said. 

"All right. So long." Cienkiewycz saluted informally, and turned 
and walked away. Charley watched him. At the door of the orderly 

100 



room Cienkiewycz looked back and waved. Then he disappeared 
inside. Charley walked away too, down the alley, beside the mil- 
dewed hoarding, scuffling his pickled toes, hanging his sodden head. 
He was thinking that the promise of an American captain about to 
leave for home was not to be trusted; too much would intervene, 
too many new joys and worries, and Cherbourg would be a long 
way in the past. But not for him, he thought, and scuffed his foot 
viciously on the broken flagstone — he swore when his toe stung 
from the impact. He looked upward through the wet locks of his 
hair at the black, rain-driven clouds scudding in from the Atlantic, 
waltzing like bears across his unknown, unloved, unlamented 
France — black bears loosed from their masters, reverting to vicious- 
ness, trailing their broken chains. 

Charley knew he would not write. He knew he would never see 
the captain again. 



101 



CHAPTER 21 



Charley made his decision, on St. Nicholas* Day, to leave Cher- 
bourg. In prospect was the bleakest season, to his mind: Noel, the 
soldier's plague of homesickness; and no doubt it was the bleakest 
year, the one thousand nine hundred and forty-fifth, of our Lord, 
the end of Charley's sixteenth. By Christmas Eve he was on the 
road; cold, tired, wet, and miserable. He slept that night, very late, 
in a church. He ate nothing. On Christmas Day, however, he stole 
two frozen potatoes from a rheumy-eyed old man who was pushing 
a barrow with a little girl in it down a muddy lane: the little girl 
had a dozen potatoes cradled in her skirt. The old man chased him 
and yelled at him. Later he picked up a kitten from someone's 
backyard, with the idea that he would drench the potatoes in its 
blood, but in the end he let it go; afterward he was sorry, and said 
to himself that nothing could have tasted worse than the frozen 
potatoes anyway. On Christmas Night he reached Charleville, 
where he slept in the railway station, and the next morning he 
caught a ride to Gespunsart with a Canadian Red Cross officer who 
was driving to Davos with a pair of skiis; the Canadian gave him 
a bar of chocolate but no cigarettes. 

"Thanks," Charley said when he climbed out of the Red Cross 
jeep. 

"What's the matter, don't you say 'sir'?" the Canadian de- 
manded. 

"Thank you, sir," Charley said. 

The Dupont house was still standing. Most of the window glass 
had been patched with cardboard, and many tiles had fallen from 

102 



the roof. Sooty snow covered the yard and garden. Charley's 
mother came to the door when he knocked; but she didn't recog- 
nize him, and for a while seemed doubtful even after he told her 
who he was: she stood back, then came forward, then stepped back, 
and her hands fluttered under her chin. She looked thin and sharp, 
and had dry, tight, black curls in her hair, such as Charley did not 
remember. Charley's father came to the door too, stepped in front 
of his wife, and said of course he recognized Charley and wouldn't 
he come in. Charley stepped over the doorsill; in the cold, nearly 
empty room an awkward reunion was performed, alternately tearful 
and silent. Charley's father showed a bemused expression: he 
wasn't quite right in his head, obviously. Mme. Dupont, on the 
other hand, was painfully sane, and for weeks could not decide if 
Charley was her real son, or only a freeloader; she begrudged the 
potatoes he ate and said she wished he had not come, but some- 
times she would go into the bedroom, where she and her husband 
slept on a pile of straw, and cry for hours. Charley learned that all 
the furniture had been stolen by the neighbors who had returned 
to Gespunsart earlier. But there was no way, then, to prove the 
ownership of anything. 

Charley's father had spent three and a half years as a prisoner of 
war in Chemnitz, first in a prison compound, then as a member of 
a farm labor gang, then in a hospital. His mother had made her 
way eventually, after the flight from Gespunsart, to Marseilles, 
where she had taken a lover, a crippled customs officer in the Vichy 
government whose duties were largely imaginary but whose income, 
supplemented by bribes, was enough to keep their souls and bodies 
together and pay Mme. Dupont's bill at the hairdresser. The 
customs officer was seven years her junior. 

At first, naturally, Charley resented his mother's inability to 
recognize him, and thought it strange that a mother should forget 
her son to such an extent, even after an interval of six years; but in 
two or three weeks, when he had come to understand that in truth 
his mother did recognize him but that she was reluctant to admit 
it and was struggling, in a queer, hopeless, birdlike way, against all 
the bonds of the family, his resentment changed to a more deeply 
bitter sorrow. No, it wasn't the few potatoes Charley consumed, for 
by one means or another he scrounged more for the larder than he 

103 



took from it, and it wasn't what he was now, a helplessly unhard- 
ened, untoughened, unratified rat — these were not this sane 
woman's curse; nor did she think often of the game-legged customs 
inspector; these things, Charley saw, were nothing to her, nothing. 
Her trouble was . . . God knows! — a doctor might have said change 
of life, a psychiatrist boredom, a philosopher mortality. When she 
wept it was for the vision of Marseilles harbor, sun and blue waves, 
the seagulls in an endless ballet by Delibes, warmth flowing like a 
pulse from Africa. She wanted to die, she desperately needed to die. 
She lay on her heap of rancid straw in the midst of a rubbled house 
and a rubbled continent, and she might have been lying in her 
grave, so close the cold ruins wrapped her. But she had not enough 
wisdom to recognize her need; and so lived, and became — I antici- 
pate — a doting grandmother in four years, the plumpest beldame 
of Gespunsart. What folly, when she might have died so easily. . . . 

This period entered, for Charley, a state of pastosity. His senses 
clotted; the village lay under a glut of snow, the guano of February, 
but he trudged the alleys and backways, searching soft-eyed for lost 
parsnips, strayed sheaves of kale, a peripatetic morsel of lard. The 
sky dripped phlegm, and the houses leaked urine — so it seemed. 
Charley's annoyance centered on a drop of moisture which clung 
to the end of his nose, a pearl, a jewel, a primitive adornment for 
some forgotten ceremonial of sex. He squinted down to see it, over 
his eyes' greasy sill; it lay beyond reach. He waggled his head, and 
it waggled too but did not fall. He smeared it viciously with the 
chapped knuckles of his hand, and it re-formed instantly. He went 
to a black window and studied it in the glass; nacreous, lumines- 
cent, charismatic — the orb of his office, Keeper of the Hollow 
Tooth, Custodian of the Pickled Toe. He turned and trudged on. 
He could not go home. 

He apprenticed himself to a baker and lived at the baker's 
house. When he met his father on the street, his father said, "He, 
he, he, he, Le Mitron. Oh, bravo! Bravo! . . . Eh, monsieur le 
mitron, avez-vous une cigarette pour le pauvre soldat?" But work 
was slow, some days there was no flour at all for the loaves, and you 
can't make bread entirely of chaff. In April the puddles stood in the 
lanes. The sun shone hot, the wind blew cold. Charley's father 
drowned in the Meuse. His burial in the family plot was accom- 

104 



plished by virtue of the priest's boredom with regulations, and was 
paid for by the veteran's allowance. Angelique — Charley's sister, 
remember? — and her new husband, a dentist attached to the staff 
of an expensive sanatorium at Pointoise, were among the calm 
cortege, dressed in unimaginably new clothes. They stayed for 
Easter week, and wore the same outfits every day. Charley, who 
had cried hard when he saw his father laid out, could summon no 
tear at the graveside; his weeping, he knew, had been for the in- 
dignity, the terrifying indignity of the corpse — symbolized by the 
expression his father wore, put there by the women's hands, a 
countenance totally unrelated to the man. Why couldn't they have 
left him in the river? So much of him had already melted away 
before he undertook his final fall that the rest would have been 
gone in no time — deliquesced, solved at last. But no; he was sent 
to the dark hole, as prim as a judge; and a rat scurried away between 
the headstones as the funeral procession departed. Charley sneered. 
When Angelique and her husband returned to Paris, Charley went 
with them. 

"Good-by. Don't worry about me," Mme. Dupont wept. Her hair 
looked like the sweepings from a barbershop. 

Four months later she was married, and considering the times no 
one thought her hasty. She acquired four new children, eight 
grandchildren, and a stout bed, giving her house for her dot 



105 



CHAPTER 22 



The weeks straggle by. Linda is pregnant — curiously, justly, 
mysteriously enough — and the darkness of early winter nights 
enters our valley like a foreign incursion. At first the news was ap- 
palling. Certainly unexpected — we'd been cautious. One loses so 
easily the sense of nature. Not that our lovemaking wasn't natural 
enough, and altogether true, for that matter, to our own, private 
natures. But nature at large, Mother Nature? Perhaps at the very 
instant the seed exploded in Linda's belly a star exploded in the 
remote void; and in neither case was the event attended by the 
slightest exertion of will, thought, feeling. The mindlessness of it, 
this is what is so shocking — easy to forget in the agony of searching 
for a little dignity. Mindless force; the machine with no starter 
button, no switch to turn it off. . . . When Linda came to tell me, 
I didn't know what she meant. She held a little silver bell next to 
her womb, and shook it gently to make it tinkle, but I must have 
looked more than usually obtuse. She frowned and shook the bell 
again, more insistently, and pointed with her finger, jabbing her- 
self to show that she meant inside. Of course, her meaning was 
unmistakable then. 

Now I find myself both pleased and displeased; but neither my 
pleasure nor my displeasure has the quality I would have foreseen 
if anyone had asked me a month ago. Really, the feeling of smug- 
ness is the least excusable — but that doesn't prevent it from form- 
ing. My little replica, there in Linda's abdomen, the tiny poet and 
adulterer, the booby, the victim, as innocent as you please, snug 
and wealthy — what could be more gratifying? I'm inclined to agree 

106 



with the Hindus, who hold that the repository of semen is in the 
skull: if I had anything at all to do with the creation of this small 
being (as all my instincts assert), then surely he is the offspring of 
my head. I rest in his perfection, at any rate occasionally. 



107 



CHAPTER 23 



Charley remained in Paris for two years. During the first year he 
lived with Angelique and the dentist, sleeping on their living-room 
sofa with his belongings stowed in a box under the sideboard. The 
dentist earned a good income at the sanatorium, a large subsidized 
institution in the suburbs; and considering the housing shortage he 
owned a good flat, well furnished and clean. Charley wore his cast- 
off shirts, patterned madras and soft English cloth with bossed 
shell buttons. There was enough to eat. The trio — Angelique, 
Charley, the dentist — patronized the cafes, the cinemas, the taxi- 
cabs; there was time for strolling, window-shopping, picnicking; 
Charley discovered the galleries, including one which was ex- 
hibiting architectural models and drawings from the Wright work- 
shops. Whether or not any of them were the captain's work was a 
question which occupied two afternoons' speculations. 

Eventually Charley took a job in a factory where radios were 
assembled, and during his second year in the capital he lived in a 
dormitory maintained by his union, a huge drafty structure of con- 
crete where old newspapers and cigarette butts soaked on the floor 
of the latrine. The move had been required by the dentist: 
Angelique was eight months pregnant, and the husband found he 
must sleep on the sofa in order to restrain his ardors. Charley was 
enrolled in night school and carried his books with him everywhere, 
wore their bindings to threads; but his studies languished. It was 
hopeless. Mathematics came easily, its language was clear and pre- 
cise, but the courses in literature and history — they were nothing 
but dates and names, dates and names; Charley memorized them, 
stuffing the long lists into his head like hanks of yarn, but in- 

108 



evitably they knotted and twisted and spilled out in useless tangles: 
besides, it was too much strain on his French, those pages of Hugo 
and Voltaire full of obscurity. He had lost French, as one loses a 
briefcase on a train, when he was ten years old, and had gone 
traveling off in the opposite direction; and in consequence he still 
spoke with a child's vocabulary, wrote with a child's scrawl. 
Angelique did what she could, her forehead hunched close to his 
under the lamplight on late summer evenings while flies caromed 
under the ceiling. Charley sniffled, grunted, fidgeted. It was no 
good. 

When one of his dormitory mates lifted the Omega wristwatch 
he had bought with his savings, Charley spent a melancholy night 
walking by the river. He leaned on the railing, studying his long 
fingers in the lamplight that drifted across the bridge like snow; 
his cigarettes flew away one by one on glowing wings, swooping 
to the water. He thought of the captain; he thought of the Atlantic, 
its long gray swells, its black rainclouds. In the morning, on the 
dentist's portable typewriter, he wrote a letter to Cienkiewycz, 
gritting his teeth over the unspellable English; and in four and a 
half months, spent in waiting and pouring over official forms, his 
emigration was accomplished: he arrived in Chicago in May, 1948. 
He went to work as an office boy in the small firm of Space Forms, 
Inc., headed by Cienkiewycz. In time he enrolled in a night school 
to study draftsmanship. The captain, whose letters to Charley dur- 
ing the period of waiting and negotiation had been perfunctory, 
even impatient, required only two hours to rediscover his former 
affection after Charley had arrived. 

For two years Charley had thought about his mother, if the 
truth were known, more than about anything else. But he told me 
some years later that when he came to Chicago he stopped think- 
ing about her. 

"How do you explain her?" I asked. 

"I can't explain her to you," he replied, "but I know her, I know 
her very well. There is so much you don't understand, you Ameri- 
cans. We Europeans aren't what you want us to be. We know that 
because we aren't what we want to be either, we aren't what we are 
taught to be. It's all fake — the newspapers, the books, the pretty 
paintings, even the thoughts and longings and dreams. That's all, 
it's just phoniness — we're fouled up like everyone else." 

109 



CHAPTER 24 



Charley. Bonny Prince Charley. Clap Hands, Here Comes 
Charley. Charley, My Boy. Do you conceive the qualities of the 
name? Any of them? This labor has been performed with only 
that end in view. Charley was born in Europe's misery and came to 
America in his youth, imbued with the irony of hope — there, it all 
could have been written in one sentence. But will a man come to 
you so easily? I dread the errors (crimes) of judgment, having 
committed more than one person may be allowed. Hence these 
many memories and images sown like the seed flax on crabbed 
wolds of language; possibly some of them will sprout. 

Because of the identity of names, we associated the song and 
the man, and would sing Clap hands, here comes Charley 
naaoooowwwwww at birthdays and other ceremonials. But even 
though Charley always smiled and looked pleased, the song wasn't 
right. No one would ever have clapped hands when Charley came 
into a room; any noise, any demonstration, any sportive expression 
whatever, would have been incompatible with the image of him 
which each of us carried in his mind; the image of quiet, worried, 
handsome, modest, inquisitive Charley; dear Charley; lovable 
Charley. Yes, these quaint terms cannot be avoided, open as they 
are to misinterpretation. Do not do Charley that disservice, my 
friends. . . . When Charley came into a room, those who were 
already there would look at one another quickly and covertly, a 
glance given and taken in the complicity of affection, in the smug- 
ness of self-congratulation, and in the complacency of chosen 
people: see, the boy has come to us again — isn't he wonderful? — 
isn't he amusing? — but we must never, never let him know. 

110 



Charley would find a chair that suited him — a straight chair, 
without arms or upholstery — and sit with his head hunched for- 
ward, his blond hair pushed carelessly away from his eyes, his feet 
crossed at the ankles, his knees somewhat apart, his hands reposing 
on his thighs — one hand palm up, the other palm down. I never 
saw another person take precisely this attitude. This was how I 
first saw him, though then he was sitting on a wooden bench at one 
side of the fireplace in the Cienkiewycz house at Palos Park. Re- 
member, he was twenty-two years old now, no longer a boy. But 
boyish, juvenile, an eternal youth — and the very air of eternality 
gave him a vestiture of aged serenity that only youth may safely 
wear. (Forgive me, Fm getting cornier by the minute.) His 
appearance was pure, yet not classical. Preclassical, rather; or pas- 
toral. A structure of bone primarily, abstract, statuesque — if one 
can use the term, not in its Apollonian sense, but as it might be 
used by someone who had never seen any sculptures but Noguchi's. 
A long skull, deep browed, frontal ridges prominent under the fore- 
lock, wide cheekbones, a long nose turned up a trifle, a long upper 
lip, a narrow jaw; the wrists and ankles, always evident, delicately 
modeled. In his clothes Charley still gave the impression of ribs, 
vertebrae, collarbones: a paradoxical rigidity of gracefulness. All 
this supplemented and reinforced by speech. Charley's English was 
lucid and simple; his accent, almost unnoticeable, hovered between 
French and German; and if I hadn't known his history I doubt Fd 
have been able to tell what it was — Hungarian or something like 
that, Fd probably have guessed. Actually, the accent vanished — 
from the listener's consciousness — after a hundred words had been 
spoken. On the other hand, Charley seldom spoke a hundred con- 
secutive words. When he did speak, he studied his hands, and you 
needed to listen carefully. Like all soft speakers, he enforced — 
without intending to do so — a submissive audience. 

In America Charley learned, through I don't know what com- 
binations of unhappy experience (or perhaps I do), to consider 
himself not only ignorant but worse: I think he looked on his 
mind as blighted, depressed, an irretrievable rubble — ruined in the 
war. It was nonsense, of course. He had a good mind. True, he 
lacked the tokens of urbane culture at first, the passwords and by- 
words. He picked them up quickly enough, though. First through 
the channels opened by architecture, and then through the others 

111 



which proliferated from his acquaintanceships with the people in 
Cienkiewycz's shop — mostly university people, artists, writers, etc. 
He had many friends, Charley did, in every corner of the city, 
surprising friends from whom he acquired surprising knowledge; 
and at a party or any gathering, at just the point when you had 
been persuaded by his own self-deprecatory quietness that he had 
nothing to contribute, he would speak up, still quietly, but with 
such trenchancy that, whatever it was — perhaps no more than a 
proviso no one else had thought of — you immediately were obliged 
to alter your notion of the man. ... I see that in some respects 
Fm describing Charley in terms very like those I used earlier for 
Alex; which is perhaps a revealing error. In this respect certainly — 
the pointed remark — they were somewhat alike; both could spring 
it on you; but there was a difference, a significant one: Charley's 
unexpected apergus were delivered in a spirit of conciliation, if that 
were necessary, or helpfulness, without consideration of self, while 
Alex spoke most often from motives of a competitive or malicious 
nature, though she was skillful enough to hide this from most 

observers Charley was, in short, a complex person, like all of us. 

No hope of reducing him to a psychograph. His closest friends 
continually fell into the mistake that I have just made here — of 
presenting him entirely in terms of his sweetness, softness, tender- 
ness, selflessness, his — so to speak — sibilant nature: but then there 
was that tic spasmodically screwing up his face, there was that 
upward-peering-through-the-forelock look — the attitude of a rat. 
Ratness was there, if you understand the full psychology of rat; in 
the center somewhere, deeply realized. The rat. Fear. Grief. Want. 
Pain. All good short words, hitting to the gut. The precise nature 
of Charley's permanent defeat can never be known to any of us, I 
suppose, who weren't there at Gespunsart, on the road to Reims, 
in the kitchen at Harfleur, wherever it was that the moment of 
downfall, final and irrevocable, occurred. 

On the winter night when we were gathered at the captain's 
house in Palos Park, the blizzard blew down on us straight from 
the Wasatch Range — so it seemed — bringing old shrieks of pioneer 
families caught in the high passes. Middle- Westerners know this 
wind well, though it does not reach here to the east. . . . We all 
were subdued that night. Charley sat by the fireside on the bench, 

112 



his hands on his thighs, one up, the other down, and the firelight 
flickered on his hair and cheek. It was the only light in the room, 
just enough to illuminate our faces and leave the recesses behind us 
dark, the long recesses reaching away into the captain's partitionless 
house. Snow buffeted the glass wall, driving and swirling, drifting 
in a sloping line along the outer sill. Alex sat next to Charley but 
not beside him: I mean she left a foot or more of space between 
them. They were engaged to be married, but the wedding had not 
been scheduled, and I was not the only one who wondered whether 
it would ever come off at all, she seemed so remote. She wore a 
dark green dress, skin tight. I could see her navel. It was a depres- 
sion in the smooth cloth, like the depression one makes in the 
ground with one's finger in order to plant a seed. That was the 
thought I seized on: planting a seed in Alex's navel, a zinnia seed; 
and I saw her walking later on, naked, an exaggerated waggle of her 
strong buttocks from side to side, and a huge, succulent, many- 
armed zinnia growing out of her belly, heavy with mauve blossoms. 
I snorted, and shifted my attention. Cienkiewycz, his close-cut 
white hair gleaming in the firelight, sat tilted back on a wooden 
chair, beaming, benign. He affected a desert style of dress: a 
painted leather shirt, a wrought-silver belt buckle inlaid with tur- 
quoise. He liked nothing better than to have guests at his fine 
house. His wife, a beautiful woman of forty, looked more serious: 
she was plotting the layout of beds in case the storm snowed us in, 
wondering whether Charley and Alex should be offered the double 
bed kept for married guests. This is the horrendous moment for 
American hostesses, I've discovered: do the boy and girl sleep to- 
gether or don't they, and then, since they surely do, will they be 
embarrassed if they are offered the double bed, and will I (the 
hostess) be embarrassed if I offer it to them — questions asked 
every night in every university town and artists' quarter (I mean, 
obviously, the places where middle-class fears lingered still, a 
decade ago) in America. I have the impression these matters are 
more serenely adjusted in Europe and the Orient. . . . The other 
guests were myself and two young student-architects who were 
doing their internships, if that's the word, in the captain's office; 
crew-cut, buttoned-down lads from Princeton, uncertain whether 
to be witty, respectful, solicitous, or rebellious, and in consequence 

113 



veering continually and abruptly from one attitude to another. . . . 
As it turned out, the entire Middle West was snowbound that 
night. The two students shared the double bed, Charley and I 
slept on cots in the childrens' playroom, and Alex spent the night 
on a mattress which was placed on the floor in front of the fire- 
place. I was first up in the morning — having gone sleepless, as 
usual — and when I came into the living room, Alex was sprawled 
in a tumble of sheets and blankets, her head hanging backward off 
the mattress, her hair flung out across the brick hearth like strewn 
fire. She was dead asleep. 

The storm had felled one of the captain's quivering aspen trees, 
and the tip of a branch had struck the glass wall, cracking the 
pane. Four long radial lines extended from the point of impact, 
three in one direction, the fourth in the opposite direction, like 
an ankh or a great bird-foot. It seemed to be a sign, hovering over 
the sleeping Alex, but the impression it gave was ambiguous — I 
couldn't say whether it was ominous or auspicious. 



114 



CHAPTER 25 



Item. "He was a strong man, but pale as the Candle he studyed 
by. His pill (an opiate, possibly Matthews his pil) which he was 
wont to take in Turkey, which was wont to doe him good, but he 
took it preposterously at Mr. Wilson's, the Saddlers, neer Suffolk 
House, where he was wont to lye and where he dyed, and 'twas the 
cause of his death. As he laye unravelling in the agonie of death, 
the Standers-by could hear him say softly, I have seen the Glories 
of the world" — John Aubrey recording the death of Isaac Barrow, 
who was my ancestor. 

Item. "But contrary to our expectations, early in the morning 
having prepared their fire-works, they attempted to burn the house 
wherein we were, seconding their fire with the discharge of above 
four hundred shot against us, according to the soldiers' account, 
who afterwards told us how many shots they had made that 
morning, according to the emptying of their bandaliers; all which 
time, they told us, Captain Cooke stood behind such a great white 
oak tree, whom we heard encouraging his soldiers to come on with 
courage, thinking himself in safety; and so he was, for we dis- 
charged not a gun that morning, nor of all the time of their siege; 
but only two in the night-time at random, to scare them from work- 
ing their trenches near unto us; for we had concluded to take the 
lives of none of our countrymen, unless they offered to enter vio- 
lently upon us, which we only fitted ourselves to prevent such 
assaults, or else that we were forced out upon them by the firing 
of our house; only we perceived our words to be shot good enough 
to keep them aloof. For we called cheerfully upon the Captain to 

115 



come on and bring up his men; for he should find us very cheerful 
spirits to deal with. . . . 

"Shortly after this, there was a day appointed, wherein we were 
to receive our sentence from the Court, which was to be given in 
the afternoon; and in the forenoon, Master Cotton preached, 
having gathered up the minds of the people, in what they had 
observed, and perceiving the people took notice, that in what we 
dissented from them, was out of tenderness of conscience, and 
were ready to render a reason and ground for what we held and 
practiced, and divers such like things; to which he answered, that 
if we had done it out of ignorance, then there had been hopes of 
regaining us; but if out of tenderness of conscience, and able to 
render reason for what we did, (and other things of like nature) 
then were we ripened for death, urging them to agree together, 
and consent in one thing; that so it might be, else would not the 
Angels carry their souls to Heaven; for he was then speaking of the 
office of the Angels in that point. And when by all their examina- 
tions in Court, interrogatories put upon us in prison, and the public 
preaching, they could find nothing against us for the transgressing 
of any of their laws, they then proceeded to cast a lot for our lives, 
putting it to the major vote of the Court, whether we should live or 
die; which was so ordered by the Providence of God, that the 
number of two votes carried it on our side; and whereas both by 
law, equity, and act of Providence, they ought to have set us forth- 
with at liberty; yet notwithstanding, they proceeded further to 
censure, namely, confined us to several towns, and to wear bolts and 
irons, and to work for our livings, though it was in the extremity of 
winter, and not to speak of any of those things, which they had 
dealt with us about, and all this during the pleasure of the Court, 
and that upon pain of death. 

"Here followeth a true copy of the Censure ... as it was given 
unto us in writing by the Court; being extant and here set down, 
verbatim, as it was given to Samuel Gorton, the rest being the 
same, but only the change of the names. 

"FOR SAMUEL GORTON. 

"It is ordered that Samuel Gorton shall be confined to Charles- 
town, there to be set on work, and to wear such bolts or irons, as 

116 



may hinder his escape, and so to continue during the pleasure of 
the Court; provided, that if he shall break his said confinement, or 
shall in the meantime either by speech or writing, publish, declare, 
or maintain, any of the blasphemous or abominable heresies, where- 
with he hath been charged by the General Court, contained in 
either of the two Books sent unto us by him or by Randall Holden; 
or shall reproach or reprove the Churches of our Lord Jesus Christ 
in these United Colonies, or the civil government, or the publick 
ordinances of God therein, (unless it be by answer to some question 
propounded to him, or conference with any elder, or with any 
other licensed to speak with him privately, under the hand of one 
of the Assistants) that immediately upon accusation of any such 
writing or speech, he shall by such Assistant, to whom such accusa- 
tion shall be brought, be committed to prison, till the next Court 
of Assistants, then and there to be tried by a Jury, whether he hath 
so spoken or written; and upon his conviction thereof, shall be 
condemned to death, and executed. 

"Per. Cur. 
"INCREASE NOWELL, Secret. 
"Dated the 3d of the 9th mo. 1643. 

"In which condition we continued a whole winter season; in 
which time their Ministers stirred up the people, in their public 
sermons, to famish us to death, out of that place of the prophet 
Sephany, 11. 10. 11. This shall they have for their pride, because 
they have reproached and magnified themselves against the people 
of the Lord of Hosts; the Lord will be terrible unto them, for he 
will famish all the gods of the earth; and men shall worship him, 
every one from his place, even all the isles of the heathen. Samuel 
Gorton having intelligence from Boston to Charlestown, to which 
he was confined, that Master Cotton preached from that text in 
the prophecy Zephany, and how he applied the doctrine from it, to 
have all necessaries withheld from him, telling some eminent mem- 
bers of the Church, that if they either went unto us, to visit us, or 
sent unto us, to minister to our wants, the curse of God would 
abide both on them and their posterity, for so doing; the said 
Gorton hearing of these things, wrote a letter to the ruling Elder 
in Charlestown, a copy whereof (verbatim) here followeth, which 

117 



was consulted upon, by the Ministers immediately, together with 
the Governor Winthrop, as intelligence was brought unto him, but 
never answer given unto it, neither by word nor writing. . . ." — 
Simplicities Defence Against Seven-Headed Policy, by Samuel 
Gorton (1646). Gorton, also my ancestor, thus describes his diffi- 
culties with the Massachusetts Bay Colony. 

Item. "At Provincetown, Nov. 18, 1771. I visited aged Mr. John 
Angell, ae. 80, born Oct. 18, 1691, a plain, blunt-spoken man: 
right old English frankness. He is not a Quaker, nor Baptist, nor 
Presbyterian, but a Gortonist, and the only one I have seen. Gorton 
lives now only in him: his only disciple left. He says, that he knows 
of no other, and that he is alone. He gave me an account of 
Gorton's disciples, first and last, and shewed me some of Gorton's 
printed books and some of his manuscripts. He said, Gorton wrote 
in Heaven, while on earth. He said Gorton had beat down all out- 
ward ordinances of Baptism and the Lord's Supper, with unanswer- 
able demonstration; that Gorton preached in London, in Oliver's 
time, and had a Church and living of £500 a year, offered him, but 
he believed no sum would have tempted him to take a farthing for 
preaching. He told me, that his grandfather, Thomas Angell, came 
from Salem to Providence with Roger Williams, that Gorton did 
not agree with Roger Williams, who was for outward ordinances to 
be set up again by new apostles. I asked him if Gorton was a 
Quaker; as he seemed to agree with them, in rejecting outward 
ordinances. He said, no; and that when George Fox (I think) or 
one of the first Friends came over, he went to Warwick to see 
Gorton, but was a mere babe to Gorton. The Friends had come 
out of the world, in some ways, but still were in darkness or twi- 
light, but that Gorton was far beyond them, he said, high way up 
to the dispensation of light. The Quakers were in no wise to be 
compared with him; nor any man else can, since the primitive times 
of the Church, especially since they came out of Popish darkness. 
He said, Gorton was a holy man; wept day and night for the sins 
and blindness of the world; his eyes were a fountain of tears, and 
always full of tears — a man full of thought and study — had a long 
walk out through the trees or woods by his house, where he con- 
stantly walked morning and evening, and even in the depth of the 
night, alone by himself, for contemplation and the enjoyment of 

118 



the dispensation of light. He was universally beloved by all his 
neighbors, and the Indians, who esteemed him, not only as a 
friend, but one high in communion with God in Heaven, and in- 
deed he lived in Heaven." — Ezra Stiles, Itinerary. 

Item. "Among the divers animals about this place were several 
ostriches, and one of our Hottentots found a nest full of eggs, and 
brought us a couple; he placed them in hot ashes, and by a small 
hole made in the end, stirred round the contents till they had ac- 
quired the consistence of an omelet, and certainly a better omelet 
never was eaten. Very often, in the course of my long journeys over 
the wilds of Africa, have I found an ostrich-egg thus prepared an 
excellent repast, and fully sufficient for two persons." — An Auto- 
Biographical Memoir of Sir John Barrow, Bart., Late of the Ad- 
miralty (1847). Describing an expedition to Graaff Reynet, 1797. 

Item. "We reached Chadron in due time, and went into camp a 
little way beyond, on the banks of the White River, a stream which 
flows through Dakota and finally joins the Missouri. Our camp was 
on a little flat where the river bends around in the shape of a horse- 
shoe. It seemed to be a popular stopping-place, and there were half 
a dozen other covered wagons in camp there. The number of empty 
tin cans scattered about on that piece of ground must have run up 
into the thousands. But there had not been a mile of the road since 
we left Valentine which had not had from a dozen to several hun- 
dred cans scattered along it, left by former 'movers/ We had con- 
tributed our share, including the gooseberry can. From the labels we 
noticed on the can windrow along the road it seemed that peaches 
and Boston baked beans were the favorite things consumed by the 
overland travellers, though there were a great many green-corn, 
tomato, and salmon cans." — The Voyage of the Rattletrap, by Fred 
Hay den Carruth (1897) . Describing a journey made in 1882. 

Item. Glories of this earth. Lake Michigan, for example, is 321 
miles on its longitudinal axis, 118 on its other; 8,300 miles on its 
perimeter; and its surface is said to overlay 22,400 square miles. 
The water level is 1.6 feet higher in summer than in winter; and 
although its source, like that of all the Great Lakes, is only rainfall, 
Lake Michigan discharges 174,000 cubic feet of water per second. 
Its single natural outlet is the St. Lawrence River, 500 miles away, 
although engineers some years ago reversed the flow of the Chicago 

119 



River. Lake Michigan was formed by the recession of the glaciers, 
which in fact did not recede but melted; Lake Agassiz, named for a 
good man, was in glacial times bigger than all the modern Great 
Lakes combined, and extended into North Dakota, Manitoba, 
Saskatchewan, and Minnesota; it was formed by the famous 
Laurentide Ice Sheet, which reached south to Carbondale (well 
named, too) and was deeper than the White Mountains are high. 
The four glacial eras: Nebraskan, Kansan, Illinoian, and Wiscon- 
sin; and the three completed interglacial: Aftonian, Yarmouth, 
Sangamon. The Sangamon lasted 120,000 years, while so far our 
uncompleted interglacial era — following the Wisconsin phase — is 
55,000 years old. The Wisconsin is divided into five substages: 
Farmdale, Iowan, Tazewell, Cary, Mankato — all good names, I 
think. Pleistocene! . . . In 1928 thirty passenger lines plied Lake 
Michigan on scheduled sailings, but now none is left, except one 
firm operating pleasure excursions. 



120 



CHAPTER 27 



Linda is crying. So quickly do our joys decline. It is a hurt sound, 
scarcely a sound at all; unvoiced, almost unbreathed; deep in her 
throat. And yet it seems to resound in this cottage like a winter 
gale crying in the hemlocks: abject, grief-stricken. Nothing again, 
no word or gesture, will ever mean sadness to me after this 
crippled weeping. . . . What shall I do for her? What can I do? 
Don't mistake me, I am not abrogating my place, either as lover or 
as fellow creature, and I would do anything in my power to help 
her. But whatever it is that can help her is not within my means — 
nor anyone's, I imagine. Oh, I can stop her crying, for an hour or 
two. She will respond to me. But the grief is never assuaged, only 
suspended. 

Somehow she has learned of the bomb, and now she believes, 
truly believes, in the end of the world. How she managed it I can't 
discover, since she is unable to read or hear; the newspapers and 
radio could not tell her, we have no television, we never go to the 
movies, her father had no television. Certainly I have done nothing 
to make her understand, nothing intentional, nothing I can think 
of. True, we developed a language between us, a rudimentary 
system of signs and grimaces, with which we can communicate our 
homely wants and equally homely gratifications; but this is a lan- 
guage of love, very profoundly, and I have never tried to use it as 
a means to tell her anything whatever about matters beyond our 
own circumference of hills and woods; nor would I ever do so in any 
circumstances. Nevertheless, somehow she has found out. It was 
New Year's Eve when she made it clear with one violent sweep of 

121 



her hand, razing the cottage, the woods, the hills, and everything; 
then she fell down and pulled me after her, and placed my hands 
palms together over my chest in the conventional attitude of death. 
She made the same sign with her own hands, first over her womb, 
then over her heart. And then she began to cry — silently. I could 
not doubt her meaning. 

All this has been in my mind, too, and in all our minds, naturally. 
We got through 1961 by the skin of our teeth — you and I, all of 
us — but 1962? 1963? 1964? One year soon will be the last; we all 
know it. I myself — like most of you, I expect — am too tired to be 
scared, almost too tired to be sad: it has lasted too long, this terror. 
I am confident you know my feeling. Hence, although the end of 
the world has been in my mind, far down under all my thoughts, 
coloring every feeling and shadowing, I'm sure, these pages, the 
actual bodily sensations had been put away as too much to suffer 
in my daily life: I mean the pain of the fire-blast, the gut-burn of 
contaminated food, the tumescence and rot of carcinogenated flesh. 
Now they have come back to me. Linda, dumb Linda, has shown 
me the intuitive genius of the body. The peace I had built with her 
has been broken in its very heart, her heart. My self within her 
already flakes and chars. 

Poor Linda. I never asked her if she believes in God or if she 
even knows what God is. I could try to teach her now? Perhaps. It 
would be a subject for a Daumier: an atheist (of fusty years) 
teaching a deaf-mute girl to know God while somewhere the 
immaculate hand inches toward the pushbutton. What an enor- 
mous explosion it will be, all wisdom going up in smoke and fire — 
wisdom that in its irremediable essence always reduces to folly. I 
guess that is the one genuine autochthonous human enigma which 
no one, philosopher or oaf, will ever explain. 

Poor Linda. 



122 



CHAPTER 28 



E: Watch it, for God's sake, will you? 

C: Sure. What's the matter anyway? 

E : What do you mean what's the matter? 

C: You're so jumpy. You're in an awful mood, if you want to 
know the truth. 

E: For God's sake, I'm in a perfectly good mood. You drive like 
my grandmother. 

C: Come on now. 

E: You should have downshifted for that grade and you know it. 

C: Why? I'm in third now — 

E: You're lugging the engine on that grade. I bet the r.p.m.'s 
were down to 1500. 

C: I don't think so. 

E: You were looking? 

C: Kiss my sallow backside, will you? To hear you talk you'd 
think I'd never driven one of these things before. You think I can't 
hear the motor? What's the matter this morning? You were fine for 
the trials yesterday, but now you're as . . . as . . . what do you 
say — ? 

E: Irascible. 

C: You're as crabby as an old maid. 

E: I always feel lousy on Sunday. You know it. 

C: Just like Alex. You Americans, you're all stuffed up like a 
Christmas turkey. Why don't you break down and go to church if 
you want to? 

E: That's got nothing to do with it. 

123 



C: The hell it hasn't. You think I can't tell a ecrevisse when 
I see one? 

E : What in God's name is an ecrevist? 

C: Little thing lives in the water, always goes backwards. 

E: You mean a crab? 

C: Something like that. 

E: What the hell's that got to do with. . . . Oh, I see, what you 
mean is a crawfish. 

C: That's it. 

E: Yeah — well, I'm no crawfish. All of us spend a certain amount 
of our lives backing out of situations, but — 

C: Of course, of course. But the trouble with you is you never 
look over your shoulder. When you back out of one situation, you 
stick your ass right in another. No? 

E: Who doesn't? C'est la vie — I believe that's the expression. 

C: Okay. 

E: Continual process of getting your ass in a sling. But that 
doesn't mean you have to go calling people crayfishes. 

C: I thought you said crawfish. 

E: Same thing. 

C: Okay. Forget it. 

E: What's the matter with Alex? 

C: Who said anything was the matter with her? She just always 
feels lousy on Sundays. 

E: What's the matter with her then? 

C: Nothing. Same as you. Same as all Americans. Even if she is 
Jewish. But she hasn't got sense enough to know it. 

E: Maybe she's got more sense than you give her credit for. 

C: Maybe. 

E: What's she do? 

C: Nothing much. But I notice she always stays in bed on 
Sunday morning until church is over. 

E: Old American tradition. Besides, the Jews have church on 
Saturday. 

C: I know. But she's not Jewish like that. In fact, she's hardly 
Jewish at all — not like Jews in France anyway. For a long time — 
well, anyway, for the first few months after we got married I 
couldn't see anything Jewish about her at all, she seemed just like 

124 



any other American. You know? — ordinary American girl, which 
was just what I wanted her to be. But then sometimes — she's 
moody, as if she were getting through to someplace I can't see. 
Maybe that's her Jewishness? 

E: More likely just female mystification. 

C: What? 

E: Never mind. Tell me, Charley, how did you come to marry 
her anyway? 

C: Why not? What's the matter with Alex? 

E: Nothing, nothing at all, I didn't mean it that way. I think 
she's fine. There's no reason in the world why — 

C: Yes, I know. What you mean is why did Alex marry me? 

E: Not precisely. Actually I think she got a better deal than she 
probably realized. But still — Alex does seem like the sort that 
might want something a bit . . . zippier? A husband with — 

C: Plenty of money. 

E: Yes, I guess so. But money plus something else. What they 
call glamour, the Sunday-supplement type, the sharpies. You your- 
self called her the American girl, and believe me that's what the 
American girl is looking for. That's what they're trained to look for 
— from infancy on — by their mothers, their teachers, their news- 
papers, radio, television, movies, everything — the whole damn 
shooting match. 

C: Seems to me I've heard all that before. 

E: I know. It's hard for me to lay off sometimes. All the time. 

C: Well, I've been laying off for a long time . . . 

E: What do you mean? 

C : I mean I haven't ever told you how full of ... of nonsense 
you are. Because I always felt you must know more than I do. 
Especially about things like this. But sometimes you are so damn 
blind and shortsighted it's enough to give anyone the gripes. No, 
wait a minute, listen to me a minute. You think because I can't 
talk as well as you do that I can't talk at all. You think I don't 
know anything. But I do. I know something about architecture, 
something about engineering, quite a lot about drafting and draw- 
ing. I've learned a lot since I came to America. And I can use these 
things. They give me a ... a ... I don't know what you call it. 
They let me understand things better than I could before. Not 

125 



only the things I see in America, but the things I remember from 
France too. Do you see? 

E: Sure. 

C: Okay. What I'm getting at is that I can give Alex as good a 
line as you can give your women. I did it. She thought I was pretty 
great — if I do say so. Hell, I knew some interesting people too, the 
captain, the students at the shop. That's why Alex thought I was 
okay. At first, anyway. And another reason is because I gave her a 
good time in bed. And another is because she thought I was going 
to amount to something, and I may yet, for all you know. Alex 
loved me — that's the main thing — and how do you explain that? 
It's like a sickness, or something you do in your sleep. And another 
thing — 

E: Look, Charley — 

C: No, wait a minute. There's more to it. I want to get this off 
my chest, I've been thinking about it for a long time. One reason 
Alex loved me is because I loved her. More than she'd ever been 
loved by anybody. But that's not the main thing. The main thing 
is that I loved her in a way she'd never been loved by anybody. 
None of this kidding and horsing around and ice-cream-sundae 
business you always see in American kids. I was serious. You know? 
Americans aren't ever serious. With them it's always horsing 
around, or else hearts and flowers. 

E : Just what I've been saying. 

C: Maybe. But I mean it differently. I wasn't just serious about 
loving Alex and wanting to marry her, I was serious about every- 
thing — about life. I don't know how to explain it. Maybe it has 
something to do with the way I lived during the war when I was a 
kid. But I know what life is worth. And when I told Alex I loved 
her I think she heard something in my voice she'd never heard 
before, and it reached her, it got to her, she really felt like somebody 
for the first time in her life, a real person. 

E : That doesn't seem like enough to explain her marrying you. 

C: No, not when you look at it afterwards, the way we're doing. 
But think how she felt then. You know what she'd always been 
before? A good kid, a cute chick. All anybody wanted from her 
was a good lay, and then a chance to walk down the street with her 
and show her off. That's all American men want — just a chance to 

126 



walk down the street with a cute chick so they can say look who's 
putting out for me. That's all they really get married for, most of 
them — so they'll have a perpetual excuse for showing off. And then 
when the cute chick turns out to be a real woman, that's when they 
start staying out with the boys and going bowling or drinking too 
much. I see guys like that every day at the shop. 

E: Okay, Charley, but I still — 

C: I know. She doesn't look like it so much now, but she really 
went for it then. The point is I gave Alex something different, and 
she appreciated it, she fell in love with me, she really did. I got her 
out of that cute-chick racket, and she went for me. Maybe too 
soon, or too much. But anyway she went for it. And there's another 
thing: here I am criticizing America and you agree with me. But 
there's a difference. You and Alex can talk about America as if it 
was the worst place in the world, but I know you don't know what 
you're talking about. The cute-chick racket is bad, but you can get 
over it, just like you can get over the rest of the "commercial 
civilization" you're always talking about. Sure, we don't have sing- 
ing television commercials in France, not yet anyway. And I don't 
like them any better than you do. I've learned that much since I 
came over here. But that doesn't mean life in France is any bed of 
roses either. There's plenty of good things here and I say the 
commercials are a damn small price to pay. No, wait a minute — 
the point is that this is part of what I was giving to Alex too, and 
it's what made me so important to her. That's right, I wasn't just 
interesting or good for a laugh, I was important. Because I believed 
the things she wanted to believe but was afraid of, I mean the 
things about America. I showed her that underneath all the cute- 
chick business there are still real people in this country, the same 
kind of people you had in 1776. Go ahead and laugh. You've got to 
laugh, because if you don't it's too damn embarrassing: it means 
you're putting yourself in the same class with the television an- 
nouncers and all the phonies. That's the way every American has 
to feel. The radio and television and movies are so full of crap you 
can't believe anything they tell you. You're the kind of guy that 
gets mad when you hear somebody on television say it's not nice 
to push your grandmother downstairs, or when you hear somebody 
say that Stalin was a son-of-a-bitch because he ordered the purge 

127 



trials, even though you know perfectly well it's true. . . . Well, on a 
different level Alex was the same way. And I showed her she really 
was a person — underneath, below all the crap. I showed her it was 
okay to believe what's true. Of course, that was only between us; to 
anyone else she still had to show she was just a cute chick right out 
of the Coca-Cola ad. But for a while with me she was a real person. 
You know, her mother and father came over from Europe, same as 
me. It's hard to realize it most of the time. But for a while I think 
Alex was like her mother — a little. She was tough, ready to live 
seriously. She really was like that. Anyway I thought she was. 

E: What do you mean? 

C: Lately she's been spending a lot of time away from home. 
Just like those guys at the office I was talking about. Lately she 
goes out even at night. 

E: Normal. You're not honeymooners any more. What's she 
supposed to do while you're studying? 

C: It's more than that. . . . Hell, I've been kidding myself any- 
way. All that stuff I was just saying — about France and America — 
that's what I used to believe. When I first came over. When I first 
met Alex. But it's all so complicated — I don't know what I think 
now. It was true then — for me anyway. I thought it was for Alex 
too, but now I'm not sure how far she went with me. All that stuff 
about being real people. We never had a baby, and I'll tell you the 
truth — the reason we never had a baby was because she never 
wanted one. So I guess she couldn't have gone very far with me 
even at the beginning. 

E: Okay, Charley, I think you're right this time, I mean about 
all this being more complicated than you think. The cute-chick 
philosophy is everywhere, you know, in every country; and in every 
country there is probably an element opposed to it, like you and 
me. It isn't an American invention, at any rate, even if the Coca- 
Cola ad originated here. If we were living a thousand years ago 
we'd be blaming the Byzantines or the gypsies for the cute-chick 
philosophy, and later on it would have been the Albigensians, the 
Rousseauists, the . . . God knows what. The form it takes today 
happens to be American because almost all the forms of interna- 
tional vulgarity happen to be American. But you wait, in a couple 
of decades it may be Russian, and after that Chinese or Martian or 

128 



almost anything. And if we're being honest — well, the anti-Ameri- 
can remarks of most intellectuals, including me, are a fake, a pose. 
Why not? You can't get by without poses, Charley. I know, you 
can't get by very long with them either. But to reduce everything 
continually to its elements, to be absolutely honest all the time, 
would be like continually acknowledging the complete chaos of 
reality, what you call the complications. Why, you'd blow your 
stack in no time at all. Life's too goddamn short. So you get by 
with poses — stock answers. Everybody's got one, or two, or a dozen. 
You try to get by without them and you'll wind up not being able 
to say a word, you'll be bugged by every object in the universe, 
each one of them putting forth its separate claims and appeals. 
Christ, what a nightmare. 

C: It's not that bad. 

E: You don't think so? I can't even think about it, it's so awful. 

C: Because you're a goddamn natural-born pessimist — and — 
and — 

E: Alarmist? 

C: Yes. 

E: Of course. But you can't reduce everything to a question of 
temperament either. Look at Alex. I don't know why the hell she 
married you and I think there's a lot more to it than your explana- 
tion. Anyway, now she's taken to absenting herself from the con- 
jugal felicities, so to speak. Where's she go, by the way? 

C: Wish I knew. 

E : What you you mean — haven't you asked her? 

C: Not right out. She says she's spending the time with Orville 
and Polly and that crowd. 

E : You mean that guy lives down by Rainbow Park? 

C: Orville Dinkoe, that's the one. And his wife Polly. And the 
Nickelsons and Henkels and some others, I forget their names. 
But I guess they don't stay home much. Hang out over at the 
Stadium — at least they did in the winter; Polly works in the ticket 
booth during hockey season. I guess they were in the taverns on 
Division Street most of the time. Now they go out to Hinsdale a lot. 

E: Hinsdale? What the hell for? 

C: Dinkoe belongs to some country club out there, or something 

129 



like that. . . . Alex asked me to buy her a set of golf clubs a couple 
of weeks ago. 

E: What did you say? 

C: What could I say? I'd like to give her some golf clubs, or 
anything else she wants. Why shouldn't she have them as much as 
anybody? But damn it, you got any idea how much golf clubs cost? 
She told me they had some secondhand ones out at this country 
club that they'd let go for ninety dollars. Let go! — and I guess from 
what she says they're not even really much good. My God, I'd let 
my left foot go for ninety dollars right now. 

E: Hyperbole. 

C: What? 

E: Exaggeration. 

C: Yes. Maybe so. You know what I mean, I haven't got that 
much money now for anything. 

E : What did she say? 

C: Nothing. She knows I haven't got the money. 

E: Then why did she ask for the clubs? 

C: She didn't really ask, she just mentioned she'd like to have 
them. And then I asked how much they cost and she told me. And 
then — well, of course I had to tell her it was too much. 

E: Put your foot in it that time. 

C: Yes. 

E : So you can't complain. 

C: No. I can't complain — ever, I guess. I'm lucky to have her 
at all. That's the way I feel if you want to know the truth. She's 
never unreasonable, just . . . 

E: Remote. 

C: I guess so. Something like that. Sometimes anyway. 

E: Look, Charley, you got a perfect right to complain if you 
got something to complain about. Everybody has. That's not the 
point; the point is you got a beautiful, sexy, desirable, and bloody 
damned independent wife, and you're as hot for her as you ever 
were, and you think maybe she's beginning to take off on her own 
somewhat. Is that a fair statement? 

C: You mean is it true? Yes, I guess so. 

E: She's beginning to show possible signs of being bored at 

130 



home, and perhaps she isn't telling you quite the whole truth about 
what she is doing away from home . . . 

C: I didn't say that. 

E: I'm saying it. 

C: Well, goddamn it, it's Okay, I was the one that brought 

it up, I suppose. 

E: Let it pass. I haven't got anything to suggest anyway. Just 
trying to define the problem. Did it ever occur to you you might 
be better off without her? 

C: No. 

E: I thought not. Does she take any interest in your racing? 

C: No. Why should she? She doesn't know anything about cars. 

E: Nevertheless, if I had a wife I think I'd like her to share my — 

C: Hell, you had a wife. What happened to her? 

E: Very complicated story. 

C: Sure, everything's a very complicated story. 

E: Exactly. You needn't be sarcastic about it. . . . And I guess 
I needn't be so metaphysical, for that matter. None of it makes 
any difference. 

C: Maybe it does. I mean I don't know anything about meta- 
physics. I'm not even sure what the word means. In fact, I wanted 
to ask you, because I read it the other night in Emerson's essays. 

E: You're reading Emerson's essays? 

C: Yes. 

E: Great God, what for? Is that one of those book-club selec- 
tions? 

C: Yes. The American Treasury. What's the matter? They're 
good books, aren't they? 

E: Yes, I guess so — most of them. But Charley, don't you . . . 
don't you find it a little hard going sometimes? 

C: Emerson, yes. Sometimes I read three pages and I'm going 
around and around. 

E : I should think so. You haven't got the background, Charley. 
What's the use? 

C: Well, it's what I. . . . Oh, hell, how do I know if it's any 
use or not? Probably it's a waste of time. All I know is I'm an 
immigrant. That's how everyone thinks about me, including you. 
Including me, too. All I know is I'm ignorant as hell. I don't know 

131 



much about America or anything; and I want to find out. Maybe 
if I read books, a little of it will stick. Wouldn't you do the same 
if you went to live in a new country? 

E: Maybe. 

C: That's the trouble with you Americans, you're never immi- 
grants, you're just — what-do-you-call-'em? — expatriates. I'm an im- 
migrant. I don't ever forget it; nobody'd let me forget it if I wanted 
to. But I don't want to, not particularly. I don't mind being an 
immigrant. I think America is great, the best thing that ever hap- 
pened to me, and I want to be the best American I can. . . . But 
it's not easy, you're right about that. If I'm going to be an architect 
I got to stick to the technical courses in night school, no time for 
history or literature. So I join the American Treasury. Is that bad? 
I get a lot of good books — $1.98 each, plus postage. They come 
once a month. Just about gives me time to read one book before 
the next one comes. Good books — Emerson, Mark Twain, Haw- 
thorne, Booth Tarkington. I don't understand everything I read, 
but something sinks in — even if it's just a word here and there — 

E: Like "sallow"? 

C: What do you mean? 

E: "Sallow" — it's a word you used a while back. 

C: It's a good word, isn't it? 

E: It's a fine word, just not the kind you expect to hear from 
a . . . a . . . well, from an immigrant — that's what you called 
yourself. 

C: Okay, I said I don't mind. I like it. And if I'm using words 
you don't expect to hear from an immigrant, that means I'm mak- 
ing progress, doesn't it? Good. That's why I read these books — 
part of the reason anyway. You know something? I like some of 
these books. Huckleberry Finn — I read that book three times all 
through, even if I still don't know for sure what a huckleberry is. 
I know what it means to be sold down the river, I bet I know it 
better than a lot of Americans. . . . 

E: I guess you do at that, Charley. 

C: Why don't you say what you're thinking? You think I'm 
some kind of a nut or something, don't you? 

E: Not at all. You're trying to needle me. I know damn well 

132 



you don't think I think you're any kind of a nut — or anything like 
it. If you did, this whole conversation would be impossible. 

C: Okay, we're friends. 

E: Of course. What else? 

C: You been riding me pretty hard. 

E: Sorry. I'm jumpy this morning. Don't know why. The race, 
maybe. Look, Charley, we are good friends, never doubt it. It 
means a lot to me, as a matter of fact. And if I take a tough line 
toward you sometimes, it's just that I'm a little worried: maybe I 
want to toughen you up a bit, maybe that's it. Because sometimes 
you seem to be awfully soft, Charley. A real sucker. I don't want 
to see you floored by something that anybody else would duck. And 
it is possible to be realistic about things without being cynical, even 
if I'm not a very good example of it myself. For instance, you've 
been over here — what? Three years now? 

C: Going on three and a half. 

E : All right, hasn't anything in all that time changed your atti- 
tude about America — even a little? 

C: You mean the television commercials again — all that stuff? 

E: No, there's a lot more to it. The whole ethos. Things like 
you see in the department stores at Christmas, everybody bulging 
with money and shoving each other around. Or maybe the way 
Cienkiewycz's clients are trying to nick him all the time. 

C: That's just it, they don't try to nick him all the time. They're 
pretty damn decent, most of them. And the ones that aren't decent 
— well, at least they stand out so much from the others that every- 
one makes jokes about them. They're known all over town. As for 
the department stores, you're just looking at one side of it. I bet I 
can show you somebody being kind and helpful for everyone you 
show me that's being a bastard . . . 

E: Okay, I just wanted to know. Actually I think you're right, 
Charley, part of the time anyhow. . . . But look at that guy up 
there in the Caddy; thinks he's driving the Queen Mary; I bet he 
pulls out in a minute. What about him? 

C: Thinks he owns the road all right. But they got the same 
type in France, everywhere else too, I guess. Only ten times worse. 
You should drive in Paris sometime. 

E: I suppose so. . . . Look at him, there he goes. Watch it. 

133 



C: I see him. Relax, will you? 

E : Why didn't he look behind him? Guys like that would drive 
you wild, wouldn't they? 

C: If you let them. Put them out of your mind, otherwise you 
go nuts. Anyway you can always blow it off in a poem, can't you? 

E: Not now anyway. Besides, it never really works . . . 

C: Listen to her. Sounds fine, doesn't she? 

E: She really does. She ought to — after all we put into her. 

C: It was worth it. She never sounded so — so sharp. 

E: What's the water gauge? 

C: Just under one-ninety. 

E: A bit high . . . 

C: It's all right, I think. 

E: All right for cruising down Route 30 on a cool Sunday morn- 
ing in May. How's it going to be on the track this afternoon with 
the sun beating down? Or later this summer? 

C: She's running hot. We knew it. But she'll be all right, wait 
and see. 

E: Maybe we should have put in that new thermostat. 

C: Don't think it would make much difference. If she's running 
hot it wouldn't do much good to get the water into the block at 
five degrees sooner. 

E: You're probably right. We'll have to do it later though. She'd 
blow up for sure on a really hot day. 

C: She's built for England, not Illinois. But I wonder anyway. 
I bet so long as you kept her going she'd never blow up, even if 
the gauge got up to two-twenty or two-thirty — especially if you 
keep the water level low. . . . But you're right anyway. We'll have 
to do a lot more than change thermostats if my guess is right. 

E: Carbon job? 

C: At least. New valves too. She's beginning to get a hot spot. 
You know how it is when you shut off the ignition when she's hot, 
she jumps a bit on one cylinder? 

E: Yes, that's right. 

C: Probably carbon. Worn valves. We can do the job next 
month. 

E: Us? Hell of a job, isn't it? 

C: Not so bad. You can usually knock it off with an electric 

134 



drill and a steel brush. We could even probably burn it off without 
taking off the head, for that matter, if we had the right kind of 
gas. This rotten leaded gas, that's what does it in the first place; 
burns dirty and leaves carbon — specially in MG engines. 

E: How's that? 

C: Don't know exactly. But it's what you always hear. We'd 
have to ask an engineer. Maybe something to do with the low 
compression or the shape of the intake manifolds. 

E: Maybe after we get some more people in the club, we can 
persuade someone to start selling it in this area — if we promised 
him all our trade. 

C: Unleaded gas? Maybe: most people don't like it though. Any- 
way this club has a long way to go before it amounts to much. 

E: They're dropping out already. I heard Burnshaw quit last 
week. And Jake told me half the members are behind in their dues. 

C: It isn't that so much. Some people always lose interest, but 
we could get up the membership if we put on a drive. The main 
thing is that one club in Chicago isn't enough to keep up an inter- 
est in the whole area, and we need the whole area to keep up a 
decent track. Even if we got in with this new national club, we 
still couldn't run the track properly by ourselves. We need more 
clubs all through the state, and in Indiana. That's the only way 
we'll get a good racing program. And as long as people in this part 
of the country are more interested in the open wheel cars and stock 
cars, we'll have a hard time getting up a good program for road 
races. Look at this track. In the first place, you can't make an 
interesting track out of an old airfield, not unless you got a lot 
more money to spend than we have. In the second place, you have 
to do a lot more work on it than we've done. We still got tar ridges 
pushing up through the concrete on the aprons and off the pit area. 
Somebody'll get killed out here one of these days. 

E: You take it easy this afternoon. Hear? 

C: I will. 

E : That's what you say. 

C: I don't take chances, you know that. 

E: You drive like a wild man. You're always gearing her down 
too late and revving too soon on the corners. 

C: That's the only way to drive. Sure, if we had an Alpha we 

135 



could drive easier. When you got a weak car on a small course you 
take every fraction of power you can get. 

E: All right. But take it easy anvwav. 

C: I will. 

E: You don't want to overrev and bust a rod. 

C : Don't worry. 

E: Okay, but I don't want to have a pile of junk at the end of 
the day. Racing is fine, but we haven't the money to be buying a 
new engine every month. 

C: All right. Don't worry. . . . You want to drive? 

E: No. It's your turn; that was the agreement. I'm just jumpy, 
that's all. 

C: That's the way it always is, the guy who's not driving does 
all the worrying. 

E : Almost there. We timed it right for once. You want to stop 
somewhere here and have some lunch first? 

C: Let's get straight to the paddock, I want to have a look 
at the radiator and hose connections. She's up to two hundred 
now. 

E: Okay, we can eat afterwards. Maybe the fan belt is slipping. 
Would that affect the water pump — if there was grease on the 
flywheel? 

C: Might. We'll see when we get her opened up. 



E: Don't look, old Pops Kowalski is coming this way — no, keep 
your head down. Maybe he'll pass us by. 

C: Not much chance. 

E: Keep your head under the hood anyway. If that old gasser 
starts in, we'll never make the grid with her. 

C: Okay. Now hold her right there, that's it, and I'll tighten 
up. That ought to do it. 

E: Yes. 

C: Don't think it was the water pump anyway. But that ought 
to hold it. Nothing else we can do now, I guess. Watch it — here's 
Pops. 

P: Whassa matter, boys? You got troubles maybe? 

C: Hi, Pops. How are you? 

P: I'm okay. Whassa matter? You got troubles maybe? 

136 



E: No, Pops. Everything's fine. 

P: Whaterya foolin' with the gineraytor for? You don't never 
want to fool with the gineraytor before a race. 

C: Why not, Pops? 

P: Aw, yull foul up the belt for sure, git it too tight or somethin\ 

E : We just adjusted it, Pops. Took up a little slack. 

P: Yeah? Maybe you took her up too much, huh? 

E: Hell, Pops— it's okay. 

P: Aw, you squirts — you don't know nuthin'. Look at it, you got 
no moren hardly a sixteenth inch play in her. When she heats up 
good, she'll bust. 

C: She's already hot, Pops. 

P: Ain't nothin' like she's gonna be. Naw, you squirts — whadya 
know about racin' anyways? Lemme tell you, in the old days we 
did it right, see? Measured it! . . . Hey, that gineraytor don't look 
so good — start her up, why doncha — lemme listen to her? 

C: She's okay, Pops. 

P: Aw, start her up, lemme listen to her, I kin help you guys 
if yull let me. 

E: What the hell, go ahead, Charley, start her up. 

C: Okay. Keep her hot anyway. 

E: Sounds very good to me. 

C: Fine. What the hell's the old man doing? 

E: Listening, I guess. 

C: If he gets his head any closer to that fan he'll go home 
without his ear. 

E: Ascultation. 

C: What? 

E: Nothing. Hey, look, here comes Push-Rod O'Shaughnessy 
heading this way. 

C: Yes. We got a popular car, it looks like . . . 

P-R: Hi. 

C: Hello, Push-Rod. 

P-R: What the hell's the old guy doing, looking for butts? 

C: He's listening. 

P-R: Yeah? I saw him looking for dinchers once under the back 
booth at Sharkey's, looked just like that. 

C: He's all right. 

P-R: Has-been, shot his wad . . . 

137 



C: Sure. That's all right. 

P: Shut her off, shut her off I 

P-R: He wants you should shut her off. 

E : He heard him, for God's sake. 

P-R: Okay, okay. 

P: You got worn-out brushes in that gineraytor. 

E: How in God's name do you know? 

P: I kin hear 'em. Wonder you got enny juice at all. 

P-R: You mean you can hear them brushes with the motor 
firing? 

P: You think I'm deef? 

P-R: Pops, ain't nobody can hear them brushes with a engine 
going right under their ear. 

P: Shows what you young squirts knows about any thin'! Any- 
body'd hear them brushes in the old days, hah! 

P-R: Look, Pops, cut it out, will you? — we had enough of that 
old-timey crap. 

P: Old-timey crap! Hah! We had cars in them days like you kids 
never seen in your lives, you know that? 

P-R: Cut it out, Pops, cut it out. You old Indy windbags are 
done. Why in hell don't you admit it? 

P: Yeah? I'd like to see enny of your cars nowadays run against 
some of them babies we had. Lemme tell you something we'd take 
anythin' you put on the track. 

P-R: How come they ain't still running them, Pops? 

P: Cause they changed the goddamn formulas, that's way! 
Yeah, you know it as well as me, you're just stickin' it in me again, 
ain't ya? 

C: That's right, Pops. Go easy, Push-Rod. 

P-R: Well, I get tired of these old windbags all the time talking 
about them sixteen-cylinder supercharged monsters they had in the 
old days. You call them cars? Goddamn locomotives, that's all. Too 
bad they didn't all blow up, like most of them did. And take these 
old windbags with them! 

C: Easy, Push-Rod. 

P-R: It's the truth, ain't it? Look at the Indy races now — ruined, 
that's what, ruined. All them cars exactly the same, going around 

138 



and around. What kind of racing is that, huh? I tell you them 
Offy's ruined it. 

P: That Offenhauser's a mighty fine engine. 

C: Sure, Pops. 

P: And Indianapolis 500 is a mighty fine race. 

P-R: Supercharged monsters, that's what they are. 

P: What the hell's that Alpha Romeyo you kids are allays talkhV 
about. Blown, ain't it? You betchur sweet life it is! 

P-R: Aw, they're done! They got that one-five liter bug blown 
so high it's burning up its own plugs for fuel. They're done, I tell 
you. Watch them new four-five liter Farraris coming on. Unblown, 
see? 

E : They're not winning many races. 

P-R: You just wait. Them Alphas are running at 9,000 r.p.m.'s 
with two blowers, see? — as big as grapefruits. Maseratis the same. 
They can't carry the gas for all that blowing and they can't lighten 
the engine or it'll bust its slats. So what's going to happen? So the 
unblown jobs are taking over. With the compression they get now 
they can stand the extra weight. And they got less pit stops too. 

P: Maybe. 

P-R: You bet. You know what? I bet they change the Formula 
One specifications next year, year after. Get rid of them blowers 
altogether. 

P: Maybe. Allays room for changes — 

P-R: Now you're talking sense, Pops. Say, you ever drive on a 
road circuit. 

P: Sure. Plenty of times. I remember once out at Silver Lakes 
somebody set up a course. Before you was born probly. 

P-R: What was you driving, Pops? 

P: Me and Jolly Chandler had one of them new Duesenbergs 
—what did they call it?— Model J? That was it, Model J— a real 
hummer, blieve me. 

C: Was it a good car, Pops? 

P: One of the sweetest I ever seen, made beautiful — you couldn't 
ast for nothin' better from a regalur production model. Oh, them 
engine parts was machined beautiful, and all shiny casings. And 
power? — you could drive a ship with one of them engines. Think it 
had somethin' like 270 tops at maybe 4,000 revs. Course it weren't 

139 



so good on handlin\ Weighed something like two tons — too heavy 
for a tight course. 

C: What did it look like? 

P: You know, like a sports car, like this here one of yours, 'cept 
it was a lot bigger and we didn't call 'em sports cars in them days. 
Mostly we called 'em roadsters or two-seaters. Course the one Jolly 
and me had was cut down some. 

P-R: You mean you and this other guy took shifts at it? 

P: Nope. This was a old-time auto race; least that's what it was 
sposed to be — like the ones I seen when I was a kid, back round 
nineteen ten, eleven. You know? A regular road race, dirt roads, 
'cept the course was shut off. Jolly and me rode together. Him 
drivin' and me mechanic. He was bettern me for driving, and any- 
ways he was too jumpy to ride passenger. 

P-R: Yeah? How'd you make out, Pops? 

P: Threw the right rear wheel on lap thirty-eight; the tail was 
draggin' and the tank bust and she burned up. 

P-R: Yeah? 

P: Yeah. 

P-R: Ain't that something? 

P: Yeah. 

P-R: Anybody killed? 

P: Naw. Jolly, he died later — the same year maybe — 1929. 
Drownded in Lake Michigan. 

P-R: What do you know? 

C: Look, Pops, are you really serious about that generator? 

P: Course I am, what you think? 

C: But there's no time to do anything about it now. 

P: Aw, sure — what time you got, Push-Rod? 

P-R: Quarter past one. We got a full half hour, plenty of time. 
Huh, Pops? We can do it easy. Say, Pops, seems to me I heard 
them rockers banging, maybe we should do something about that? 

P: Aw, this heap's got a million things wrong with it. 

P-R: Yeah, but they ain't going nowhere at all with them tappets 
loose like that. 

P: Yeah, that's right. Tell you what, you slip out that gineraytor 
cover and turn the brushes, see, and I'll set the valve clearances — 
if I kin borry a sprocket wrench somewheres. 

140 



E: You leave that engine alone. 

P: Take it easy, kid. What you got them clearances set at? 

E: About seventeen. 

P: When she's hot? 

E: Yes. 

P-R: Tighten them up, huh, Pops? 

P: Yeah. Sure. Course with them weak brushes maybe we should 
cut the spark some. Whatcha got the gap at? 

E: About twenty-two. 

P-R: What you think, Pops? 

P: If only we had a good magneto to throw in there. Hell, they 
ain't got nothin' in this bucket of bolts but this here old air-cooled 
coil. Weak? — why it couldn't burn the fuzz off your old lady's ass. 

P-R: So what we going to do, Pops? 

P: It's like this. If only we had a good magneto to throw in 
there. We could maybe even up the gap to twenty-three, twenty- 
four, you know? And if ony we had a hot coil we could maybe leave 
it where it is. But like this? We got to cut that gap to twenty, 
maybe nineteen. 

P-R: Think she's worth it, Pops? 

P: She's a pile of junk, kid, if you wanna know — but what the 
hell, we gotta do the best we kin with what we got as the Greek 
said when he stuffed the cat in the meat-grinder. 

P-R: Yeah? Say, Pops, that's pretty good. 

P: Yeah. Hell, I figgur they even gotta have distributor trouble 
with this heap. Timing all off. So then with the punk gineraytor 
she misfires or fouls, and who knows what happens, she blows a 
gasket, busts the mannyfold, throws a rod — and you might as well 
take her to the river and push her in. 

P-R: That's right, Pops. Say, you got it all figured out, ain't 
you, Pops? 

P: Sure, kid. Now I'll tell you what to do, git that valve cover 
offa there quick, see, and go to work on them rockers, but yull 
hafta use a screwdriver and a ordnary wrench cause we ain't got no 
time to go borryin' now, and I'll be gettin' them plugs outa there 
and settin' the gap down, if I kin get them out when they're hot, 
and then maybe we kin advance the distributor a fraction, see, so 
the stroke is longer and maybe that way she'll get by. 

141 



P-R: Yeah, yeah. Say, Pops, you sure know what you're doing, 
don't you? 

P: Wull, I ain't been round these heaps for forty years for 
nothin'. 

P-R: That's right, Pops. 

P: Now git goin' — there's some tools laid out over there where 
the guys was gettin' ready to pack 'em up. 

P-R: Okay, Pops. 

E: Listen, you two flea-brained bastards, neither one of you is 
going to lay so much as a greasy finger on — oh, for Christ's sake! 
— you tell them, Charley. 

C: That's right, Pops. See, the steward's just blowing his whistle. 
Time to line up. 

P: Huh? 

C: Yes, Pops, the time's up. 

P: Wull, what do you know 'bout that — we never even got to 
open her up. 

E : You're bloody damn right you never got to open her up, you 
old— 

C: Yes, he means you took too long discussing it, Pops. Now 
we have to fall in on the grid. 

P: Wull . . . wull . . . wull, keep the revs up anyways, that'll 
help some. Don't let her idle on the line no moren you hafta. 

C: I won't, Pops. 

P: Say, who's your pit crew? 

E: I am, and nobody else is going to — 

C: That's it, Pops, we can handle it ourselves. 

P: Aw, you gotta have moren one. Spose you git hung up with 
a tire change and somethin' else too, huh? 

C: We'll manage it, don't worry. This is only a sprint, Pops. 

P: You kids is crazy, that's what! 

P-R: You said it, Pops. 

C: We can handle it. 

P: But you gotta have somebody with some 'sperience in there, 
don't you? 

E : For Christ's sake, come on, come on, if you want to see the 
race so bad. Bring your buddy. Bring your old lady! 

P: My old lady's dead. 

P-R: Yeah, Pops? How did she die? 

142 



P: Sa funny thing, she was walkin' out the front gate in Daven- 
port, that's where we was livin' — you know, Davenport? — well, it's 
like this, she was walkin' out the front gate, see, and this kid comes 
along on a bicycle, see, and he clips her, just like that, right in 
the ass . . . 

P-R: Yeah? Say, that's a laugh, ain't it, Pops? 

P: What's so goddamn funny? 

P-R: You mean it really happened? 

P: Sure, whadya think I yam — she fell down and bust her head 
and she died. Whadya think I yam, a goddamn comedian or 
somethin'? 



P: What did you clock him at? 

E: Forty-seven point one. 

P: Pretty good. 

E: Pretty good! — it's sensational. Hell, that thing's not rated 
more than seventy-five, eighty flat out. You can't get her much 
over sixty-five on this course. Charley's brought his time down 
from fifty-five point three in nineteen laps. That's damn good 
driving. 

P: Six laps to go. Forty-seven point one, huh? How long's the 
track? 

E: The way they laid it out this time it's nine-tenths of a mile. 
Too damn short. 

P: Yeah. Say, he's clockin' close to seventy at that. Maybe too 
much for the track. With that heap of yours, anyways. 

E: If he can hang on, third is cinched, and a chance for second. 
Best we've ever done. 

P-R: If that Alpha'd conk out you could even win, ain't that 
right, Pops? 

P: No chance. She's hittin' forty-six, forty-five regalur and ain't 
even tryin', far as I kin see. She'll coast in. What is she? 

E: That's a 1900 Sport. Damn fine car. Almost new. 

P: Well, you might take the Bristol. 

E: Might. Damn good car too. Showing its age though. I tell 
you, I think he can take that Bristol. Look at him, he's pushing the 
Bristol on the corners and he's cornering fine. 

P: You think so. Maybe. From here it looks like he's gonna spin 

143 



her into them markers next time round. She's nosin' down, he's 
goin' in too hard. 

E: Don't you worry. Charley knows what he's doing. 

P: Okay. I didn't say nothin'. 

P-R: Hey, look, there goes that yellow Crosley. Jeez, look at 
her smoke. 

P: Oughta take alia them Crosleys off the track. Look at him. 
Blew out a oil seal, differential burnin' up — hell, that's the last 
thing oughta happen to a racin' car. Look at him throwin' smoke 
in the Alpha's face. That'll slow him up. 

E: They're giving him the black flag. 

P: You sure got some lulus runnin' today. 

E: What else can you expect? Not many around here got cars, 
not amateurs anyway. If you're going to get up a race more or less 
in the same class, you have to let in some punks. The Crosleys 
haven't a chance, but that doesn't mean their owners don't like to 
drive. 

P: What's the limits on this race? 

E: Twelve hundred to two thousand cc's. Sure, it's phony. But 
it's the best the club could do with what we've got. That's why 
those old cars are in there. Beauties too, some of them, but not fit 
to race today. Like that Aston-Martin Le Mans; it's twenty years 
old. And that AC 16/80. 

P-R: What's that white one? 

E: Called an Alvis. British car. Never saw one before. 

P-R: Here's Charley. 

P: What's the time? 

E: Forty-seven point four. 

P: He's holding her steady. Guess he's probly got her doin' as 
much as she'll do. 

E: Ten to one he breaks forty-six point five? 

P-R: Take him up, Pops, take him up! 

P: I'll tell you kids somethin': never bet on a race. 

P-R: That's right, Pops. 

E : Did you notice anything wrong, Pops? 

P: Naw, looks okay, sounds okay. But look at him on that corner 
— like he's diggin' pavement. 

E: He always does that, Pops. Don't worry. 

144 



P: I'll tell you kids somethin' else: never touch your brakes in 
a turn unless you're better drivers than I think you are. 

P-R: Something going on in back, past the esses. Look at the 
crowd over there. 

P: No smoke, can't be afire. 

E: Probably one of the Crosleys threw a wheel or something. 

P-R: Hope it ain't Charley in no trouble. 

E: No, not Charley. Couldn't be. 

P: Naw. Never git to worryin' till they come around anyways. 

E: Charley always gets through the esses with no trouble at all. 

P: Can you see him on the south turn? 

E: Not yet. 

P: What's the clock? 

E: He's due. 

P-R: There, there— that's him, ain't it? 

P: Hard to tell from here. There's so many of them red TD's on 
the road. 

E: Yes. . . . That's Charley. You can tell by the slant in the 
left fender. See? It's a bit off. That's where I rammed the marker 
last summer. 

P-R: Yeah? 

P: Here he comes. 

E: Look at that, look at that! Flat out. Hear it? 

P: What's the time? Did you forget to press the button? 

E: No. Forty-six point eight. Didn't I tell you? He's working 
it down, lap by lap. 

P-R: Look at him! He's nosing inside the Bristol on the turn! 

P: Too fast, too goddamn fast! Don't he know when to shut off, 
for God's sake? 

E: He's all ri 

P-R: Lookitim, lookitim! 

P: He's gonna spin! 

E: Charley 

P: Jeezus, look at him! 

P-R: He's flipping, Pops, he's flipping! 

P: Left front caught one of them tar ridges. Caught it at a 
angle. 

P-R: Up and over! Lookitim, lookitim! 

145 



E: Charley, Charley — 

P-R: Oh, man — again! 

P: Flipped three times — 

P-R: Lookit, she's blowing up, she's blowing up! 

E : Look out. 

P: Hey, grab him! 

P-R: I got him, I got him — 

P: Hold him! 

P-R: I can't, he's getting away! 

P: Slug him, for Christ's sake! Sit on his head! Now hold 
him. . . . 

P-R: Jesus. 

P: Take it easy, boy, take it easy now. 

E: I'm okay. 

P: Sure. Whadya tryin' to do, git yourself kilt or somethin'? 
You can't just run outen onto that track any time you want to. 

E: I know, Pops. 

P: What did you think you was doin' anyways? 

E: I don't know, Pops. Just wanted to be there, I guess. 

P: Wanted to be there — I reckon you did! Now, look. See? No 
reason for it. Charley's out, he's okay, see? He's walkin' around. 
See him wavin'? He's okay. Look at him walkin' around lookin' at 
the car? 

E: Thank God. 

P: Yeah. 

P-R: Boy, you sure got a mess out there now, ain't you? Scrap 
metal, that's all. 

P: Aw, maybe, it ain't so bad as it looks. Sometimes you take 
and straighten them out, they goes as good as ever. You know? 
Little paint here, a new hunka tubing there — hell, you kin do a lot. 

E: We'll see. It'll take a lot of money. 

P: That's a fact — sometimes it ain't worth it. If you take her 
home like she is and put her in the barn, maybe she'll be a classic 
someday, you kin sell her for a coupla thousand bucks, who knows? 

P-R: Ha-ha. That's a good one, Pops, ain't it? 

P: Well, you never know. Many a little lady's turned out to be 
better'n anybody'd figgured in the long run. 

P-R: Hey, there's the Alpha getting the flag. Race is over, Pops. 

146 



P: Yeah. 

P-R: Let's hit the road, Pops. 

P: Yeah. Okay. 

P-R: So long. Better luck next time. 

E: Thanks. 

P: Yeah. So long, kid. Don't take it too hard; it don't never 
pay. Hope we see you sometime — somewheres when our tracks 
cross. So long, kid. 

E: So long. 



147 



PART III 



CHAPTER 29 



"Rot," Alex said. "Perfect utter birdlime/' 

She stretched, running the backs of her fingers along the head- 
board, so that the nipple of one breast peered — inquisitively, it 
seemed — over the edge of the sheet. For an instant I could have 
sworn it blinked. Of an absolute circularity, not a millimeter off, 
if I may be permitted a pedanticism, it was a color between 
mallow and coral, like a mulberry nearly ripe. 

"What do you know about birdlime?" I asked. 

"Nothing whatever." She subsided, folding her hands on her 
stomach and twiddling her toes under the sheet. Her tone of voice 
became flat. "Nothing whatever. But you'll admit the word has an 
appropriate ring." 

"Why?" 

"Because-you-are-talking-drivel-and-you-know-it." 

"The fact remains that Charley keeps a gun, which I must say 
shocks me considerably, aside from the perso — " 

"Why should it shock you?" She looked at me under weighted 
eyelids, without turning her head. "Lots of men keep guns." 

"Of course, of course," I said, with only half simulated impa- 
tience. "But I didn't think Charley was the type, I still don't think 
he's the type. Something is out of line. Which is to say, keeping 
a gun suggests an element of Charley's character that is either 
wholly illusory or has been hidden until now. In either case, I'm 
having a hard time fitting it into my conception of the whole man." 

"Why don't you talk like a human being?" 

"Oh, for Christ's sake—" 

151 



She thumped her pillow loudly and lay down on her side. "Go 
on," she said. 

One breast sagged a trifle in the direction of the other, creating 
a soft inverse curve that furled downward from the tendon of her 
throat. Instantly four poems came to my mind, four celebrations 
of that tender arrangement of loved flesh, four poems that should 
have been written by Skelton, Wyatt, Ben Jonson, and perhaps 
Sackville or Waller; but they didn't write them, and neither did I. 
People who complain — with some justice — about the number of 
poems that are published, should think of the number, including 
some superb examples, that are never written. 

"Well," I said, "it occurs to me that — by the way, what kind of 
a gun is it?" 

"Colt .38 automatic." 

"I see you are knowledgable in such matters. Is it loaded?" 

"No." 

"How do you know?" 

"I looked." 

"All right. Assuming you know how to tell. Where does Charley 
keep it?" 

"Bottom drawer, right side, desk in living room." 

"Did you see any cartridges?" 

"When?" 

"When you looked, naturally." 

"No. But that was some time ago." 

"You haven't looked recently?" 

"No. Why should I?" 

"If I were living in the same house with a gun, I'd prefer to 
keep tabs on it." 

"That's the kind of a person you are." 

"What do you mean by that?" 

"I mean if we're talking about character and elements of char- 
acter, you never open your mouth without giving some of yours 
away gratis." 

"I see. And what do you infer from what I just said?" 

"Never mind. I keep my own counsel." 

"Don't you, though?" I leaned over and kissed the end of her 
nose. "Bitch," I said. I took a cigarette from the pack on the night 

152 



table, lit it, blew a long gust of smoke at the ceiling, and briefly, 
silently cursed the little stitch of pain that tightened in my right 
lung. 

"Recapitulation," I said, trying to collect my thoughts, which 
for the moment seemed to have scattered as far as the dispersed 
parts of Charley's (or my) character. "Charley, in a moment of 
unknowing self-revelation, says he is going to kill me. Don't 
interrupt: I know he didn't realize he was talking about me and 
also that he didn't realize there was any real occasion to be talking 
about anybody; and beyond that I know that after the first shock 
wore off I myself discounted Charley's statement, thinking it too 
much at variance with the man's real character to be credible. But 
there is still this business of the gun. I'll tell you, the more I think 
about the gun the more I find myself in doubt. I remember the 
tone of voice in which Charley said he would kill anyone he found 
messing around with you. It may have been a bit hesitant; but not 
boastful or affected. He was feeling his way toward a true knowl- 
edge of himself, toward that hidden element of his character we've 
been talking about. Which he, perhaps, was too innocent or good- 
natured to recognize previously. At any rate, I was." 

"You? Innocent and good-natured? Don't make me laugh," Alex 
murmured, examining her fingernail to find a rough place. "You 
look like a pirate and you are." 

"Not, by God!" We had been through this before, and Alex 
knew we had reached the point at which I was beginning to decide 
to refuse to accept her aspersions as simple kidding: she was inter- 
ested in seeing precisely when the preliminary flickers of lightning 
would be superseded by the main bolt. However, I wasn't ready to 
launch it yet, and she gauged this immediately. 

"Okay, you're a sweet, good, kind — poet," she said. 

"Contradiction in terms, and you don't have to rub it in." 

Alex was biting her nail with great care; she didn't answer. 

"Anyway," I continued, after a pause, "I can't help beginning 
to suspect there is more to Charley than meets the eye, and that's 
really a damn stupid way of putting it; he and I have been close 
friends for a long time, I thought I knew him, I still think I know 
him a lot better than I could through any meeting of eyes. But I'm 
puzzled, no doubt of that. This new element is upsetting. Pri- 

153 



marily, of course, because I'm the guy he's going to take a shot at 
when he finds out what's going on, but secondarily because — hell, 
I just don't like people to go overturning my concepts of them. And 
don't tell me that's because I'm a poet. I know what you think of 
poets, but in this case, at least, I'm behaving perfectly normally. 
Nobody likes to discover concealed motives in their friends." 

"Look," Alex said. She took the cigarette from between my 
fingers, sucked on it greedily with her head tilted upward, and 
stumped it out in the ashtray without asking me if I wanted it back. 
"You and Charley may be good friends. But he's my husband — " 

"Thanks." 

"It's a fact of life, for Pete's sake — don't be so unrealistic. All 
I'm saying is I know Charley better than you do. I probably know 
him better than anyone in Chicago, anyone in America — if what 
he says about his life in France is true, I must know him better 
than anyone in the world. I'm his wife. I've lived with him for two 
and a half years. All right, we're not an old married couple; he 
hasn't got gray hair and I haven't got varicose veins; but two and a 
half years is something — in fact, it's a pretty long time. And I say 
you're cockeyed. Charley wouldn't hurt a fly." 

"How long has he had that gun?" 

"I don't know. He's had it since before we got married." 

"Where did he get it? Has he got a license for it?" 

"I don't know, I don't know — what difference does it make?" 
Alex was turning snippy. 

"Dearest — be patient. It's important, after all. What I'm driving 
at is this: what the hell does he have the gun for? I mean if he 
isn't going to shoot anybody. Do you know him well enough to 
answer that? Certainly you must have wondered about it. Did you 
ever ask him?" 

"Yes, I did." Alex shifted onto her back again, and turned her 
head to look out the window into the hazy, hot morning sky of 
September. Street noises came to us, the whine of a trolley-bus on 
47th Street, kids banging on the iron fence out front. "You know 
what he said?" 

"What?" 

"Nothing. Or rather, he found some way to change the topic 
to something else." She smiled a small smile that scarcely moved 

154 



the corners of her mouth. "When Charley thinks I'm asking ques- 
tions which aren't any of my business, that's the way he lets me 
know." 

I raised myself on my elbow. "Then doesn't that support my 
view? If he won't tell you what he has the gun for, isn't that 
another indicator of this element in his character we've been talk- 
ing about? Something concealed? He's got a hard side to him, too 
firm, too determined — it's the sort of thing that betrays a sup- 
pressed rage." 

"Birdlime. Birdlime!" She sat up and clutched her knees. "You 
make me sick." 

"Oh, I do— " 

"You're just not thinking." She turned her head in order to look 
into my eyes, very earnestly. "Charley is a European; that's the 
first thing to remember. But he's also an American, a kind of obso- 
lete American, two hundred years behind the times. You know 
how he is about that. All right, as a European he holds certain 
ideas about the family and marriage; I don't have to tell you what 
they are because you probably know more about them than I do; 
but I'll tell you this: Charley just takes them for granted, that's all. 
He doesn't press them, not ever, do you see? If I questioned them, 
if I said a wife's role in America isn't exactly what he thinks, why 
he'd probably abandon his ideas immediately. But I don't question 
them — " she was speaking now with measured emphasis " — and 
I never will question them, whatever else happens between us. 
That's the way I love Charley, and if you don't understand that you 
don't understand the first thing about me. No, don't say anything 
yet. There's another point: did you stop to think that the American 
Constitution says every man has a right to bear arms? Probably 
not; you probably haven't read the Constitution for years. Neither 
have I. But Charley has; he's read it and studied it, he's been 
reading it and studying it, off and on, ever since he came to this 
country — remember that. And another thing: you probably don't 
know that Cienkiewycz carries a pistol with him all the time, don't 
ask me why. Okay, put these things together. I think Charley keeps 
that gun for several reasons, reasons that overlap. One — " she be- 
gan counting on her fingers " — he believes it is a husband's duty to 
defend his home. Two, he feels, perhaps dimly, that the gun is a 

155 



symbol of his freedom as an emigrant to America. Three, he is 
imitating Cienkiewycz. Four — " she began talking faster, excited 
by her ability to think of more reasons than she had expected " — he 
unconsciously wants to put himself on a level with the soldiers who 
lorded it over him for so long during his childhood and who all 
bore arms, at least on parades. Five, it cost a lost of money and 
consequently is a symbol of financial success. Six, remember the 
reason he gave himself; it is a beautifully made machine and 
Charley loves machinery. Seven . . ." She paused. "Hell, that's 
enough, isn't it? The point is there are lots of reasons for him to 
buy a gun, but not one of them is sufficient to make him use it. 
Not on you; not on any human being, for my money. Charley 
isn't firm or determined or anything like that, and you know damn 
well you're just building fantasies about all that stuff. All he is 
ever trying to do is be clear — clear in his own head, his thoughts 
and feelings. That's all; it's his whole purpose in life, if you ask 
me. And it isn't firmness. Just the opposite." 

"Possibly, possibly, but don't you — " 

"Don't I think Charley can change, don't I realize matters are 
complicated, don't I this, don't I that? I know, this is what you 
always say. But now listen to me. Yes, of course matters are com- 
plicated, but it's not such a damned original remark as you think 
it is. And here's another thing, if matters are as complicated as you 
say, knowing this, recognizing it, is no help whatever to most peo- 
ple. Just the opposite. Most people have simply got to find a 
straight way of looking at things if they are to keep themselves 
from going insane. And who's to say their view isn't as good as 
yours, and as true? You don't know so much, you said that yourself 
plenty of times. Then why can't you listen to somebody who does 
know something, me? If you want to go around pulling a long face 
all your life, that may be all right for you. But not for me, I'm not 
going to tell everybody I don't know anything when I know 
damned well I do know something. I'm not smart, I pulled out of 
college, I've never read many books; and furthermore I'm not ever 
going to read many books, I don't give a damn for books. But I'm 
not stupid, and I know that however much I don't know I still 
know something. I believe what you know is a lot more important 
than what you don't. And that's what most people think — they 

156 



agree with me. If you think anybody can live a decent life on the 
basis of any other theory, you're crazy — plain crazy." Alex brushed 
the hair back from her forehead. "Lord, I'm talking too much. 
Haven't been this wound up for years. It's no good for a lady, all 
this serious conversation, changes the color of the circles under her 
eyes." She swung back the sheet and stepped to the mirror to peer 
at herself. "What's the difference, Poppy? Let's not talk about it 
any more, okay? . . . But I'll say this for Charley. His attitude, I 
mean about America and marriage and all that — well, you know, 
it's stupid, isn't it? Just doesn't have much to do with the facts of 
life; everybody knows it. It's Charley's dream, as cockeyed as they 
come. Yet I don't care. I think it's sweet, goddamned sweet." 

"So do 1. 1 wish I didn't." 

With her forefinger she felicitously nudged a speck on the point 
of her chin, and leaned forward to examine it more closely. "Do I 
dare ask what you mean by that?" she said. 

"You dare ask anything you want," I answered in a soft tone. 
"You know that. My anger — if that's what it is — will never last 
long with you: I'm too scared of you." 

"Now it's my turn to say thanks." 

"You needn't be sarcastic," I said. I felt suddenly weak and 
worn out, soft, unaccountably close to tears. "It's exactly what 
you want." 

Alex said nothing. I reached for another cigarette and lit it; 
this helped — the pain crouching in my windpipe. And so did look- 
ing at the volute carved in Georgian frumpery at the end of my 
living-room mantel; the soapy whorl of wood caught the light in a 
peculiar way when seen from the bedroom, and always made me 
think of a brain — out there, detached — object of a thousand former 
nightmares and daymares. My mind ratcheted back through these 
remembered images, like my own head tumbling through the 
mirrors of a barbershop. I felt better; replaced again firmly on top 
of the poker chips of my days. 

"After all," I said, spouting a long jet of smoke toward the ceil- 
ing, "I have a little reason to be angry, or at least hurt — which 
comes to the same thing. Charley the innocent, Charley the sweet, 
Charley the prince charming, and so on and so on. I've had a pretty 
stiff dose of it in the last twenty minutes." 

157 



She turned around and leaned back against the edge of the 
dresser, bracing herself on her straightened arms. "You asked for 
it," she said to the Saito lithograph which hung on the wall above 
my head. 

"I suppose so," I muttered. "But do you think I'm made of 
steel?" I drew on the cigarette. "Isn't a man entitled to a little 
jealousy? For God's sake, every night you climb into bed with that 
guy right behind this wall — " I reached up above my head and 
rapped the wall with my knuckles " — and you know damn well it 
kills me. Do you realize how much sound comes through? I sup- 
pose you're having a first-rate time these nights— you, you in- 
satiate . . ." 

"Hush. Isn't anything out of bounds for you?" 

"Out of bounds!" I sat up straight, but then subsided again. 
"I'll say this much: I have the distinct impression that although 
you are unwilling to talk about your bedtime activities over there 
to me, you would be more than willing to discuss your bedtime 
activities over here with Charley — critically and with relish, 
dwelling on every detail." 

"Don't be silly," she said. She came to the bed and stood beside 
it, looking down. She ruffled my hair. "Anyway — as I've said before 
this morning — what difference does it all make? Poppy, let's enjoy 
life, can't we?" She took the cigarette from my fingers, turned, and 
walked through the door to the living room, trailing a blue scarf 
of smoke behind her nakedness. 



158 



CHAPTER 30 



Have I pointed out that Alex was lame? Probably not: it is easy 
to forget. For that matter, most people never knew it, never ob- 
served it; for it detracted not one syllable from the syntax of her 
flowing movement, her expressiveness, her being. Yet Alex had been 
born with a left leg three-eighths of an inch shorter than her right. 
A defect; so she herself proclaimed it — in private. But a defect 
easily disguised if not remedied; and Alex had her shoes made by 
a cobbler on South Michigan Avenue, a pocked and pagan Anato- 
lian, from the prolix recesses of whose shop issued footware in the 
haute mode for Chicago's bunioned and spavined gentility. His 
price was as low as $175 a pair for simple suede, and his clients paid 
up without a murmur, being careful only to demand a smudgy re- 
ceipt for their husband's tax files. 

On the street, thanks to the Anatolian, Alex walked altogether 
levelly, drilling passersby with her arrogant and smoldering stare; 
and only those who saw her in undress could tell she was a gimp. 
These could; but not many did. I am not speaking here only of the 
men who attended her— joyous, jealous fraternity. Alex occasion- 
ally went to swim and sun at the 57th Street beach, wearing a 
bathing costume which, however little it left to the imagination, 
nevertheless incited more fantasies than one cares to contemplate 
— many a young man in her presence wished his own costume more 
inscrutable — yet I wonder how many of the spectators who retained 
sufficient composure to examine her critically (spleenish wives and 
injured sweethearts) detected the limp. Alex possessed other arts 
than those conferred on her by the Anatolian. Like all gimps, she 

159 



had learned them in childhood. She never approached the water 
with a walking gait, for instance, but always at a run, no matter 
how icy the prospect; nor do I mean one of those giggling, hippity- 
hoppity, tooth-gleaming caprioles which decorate the travel posters 
from Nassau: Alex's immersion was accomplished in a smooth, 
athletic run, executed on the balls of her feet, ending in a skimming 
splurge and fifty yards of Australian crawl. Not a trace of a limp. 
Coming out was more difficult, and she had various tactics. One, 
less successful than others, was simply a reversal of her entry; but 
it is hard to run out of water. A commoner expedient was a slow, 
intermittent progress from water's edge to blanket, interrupted by 
much hopping on one foot to shake out her hair, turning to wave 
to someone still in the lake, stopping to take a pebble from between 
her toes, etc.; by this means she could traverse as much as a 
hundred feet of sand without once taking a normal step. Alex 
wasn't ashamed of her short leg. If anyone there, the savagest 
rival, had come up and asked in a loud voice whether or not one 
of her legs was short, Alex would have replied, "Of course" — 
equally loudly and without a blush. But she regarded her limp 
as ... I was about to say an esthetic blemish, but I think her feel- 
ing was more moral than esthetic, though she would not have 
recognized this with any clarity; only in retrospect can I surmise it 
myself. She was Jewish, remember that — half-Jewish, to be precise. 
Her lameness may have been a mark of God's overbearance, a sign 
of interminable heaven's war against human dignity and sanity. 
Like Job, she preferred to bear the insult alone. 

As for myself, I held a different attitude toward her limp: far 
from being a defect, it was a saving deviation from an otherwise 
too-perfect symmetry, and a special correlative of my affection. 
Too-perfect symmetry? — something like that, I suppose, for in 
every other aspect Alex possessed total balance: eyes equally large 
and well placed, breasts ditto, nose as straight as twelve o'clock, 
hands, wrists, arms, shoulders all perfectly equilateral; and she was 
ambidextrous. Hence the limp was everything, in a sense; the 
humanizing factor, giving, it seemed, an attainability and intelli- 
gibility to her poised hauteur as well as her poised pelvis. Believe 
me, she might very well have lacked these qualities if she hadn't 
possessed the limp. Without the limp Alex could take form in my 

160 



projecting mind — or yours, I dare say — as a woman who, by the 
age of fifty, will necessarily have discarded all gestures but those of 
pride; with the limp this is impossible. 

And so I lay stretched out on my comfortable sack with my head 
inclined at the comfortable angle against my headboard, and I 
watched Alex walk away from me: through the bedroom door, into 
the living room beyond, past the Georgian mantel, up to the three 
tall windows which looked out over the roofs of 47th Street. Thank 
God for sun tan lotion. From the whiteness of her buttocks her color 
verged to honey-brown, then to the dark gold of her hair; and the 
thin, dissipating, blue veil of cigarette smoke was the perfect gar- 
ment for this richness. Her shoulder blades moved gently and 
supplely beneath their cover, and an alternating luminescence 
shone in the backs of her knees as they twinkled slowly away. . . . 
Sorry to be so lush. I recognize that my words may produce gro- 
tesque images for you, and of course the temptation to render an 
exact description in such subjective matters is just what the pro- 
fessional writer ought to reject. The job can't be done with words. 
How much less adequate then my language would be for conveying 
the brain turbulence produced by that little lurch as she stepped 
down on her left foot. Talk about sinuosity, lissomeness, silken 
undulatency, etc., etc. — my God! 

As she approached the windows, the light from the sky took 
precedence over that indoors, and she receded into silhouette — 
posed in dynamic stasis against the hazy brightness of a sky whose 
cowl of cloud scarcely withheld the flood of hot September sun- 
light above it. She looked out the window for several minutes, and 
flicked her ashes into my malnourished azelea, which had kept 
itself alive since the previous Christmas by mere good luck. Its 
brown and parched appeals were generally unnoticed. Not now, 
however. Alex called out: "For Pete's sake, Poppy, why don't you 
give this poor plant some water?" 

I got up and gave the poor plant some water. 



161 



CHAPTER 31 



Alex sat down on the sofa, tucking her feet sideways. ''God/' 
she said, looking at them, "they're filthy. You might have your 
floors swept once in a while." 

"Nothing but complaints. As a matter of fact, the cleaning lady 
can only come in the mornings," I answered. "So I told her to stay 
away until further notice." 

"Oh." Alex sat for a while without speaking; she continued to 
study her feet, and with her slender forefinger traced a blue vein 
down her instep. I sat in the leather chair. Abruptly Alex said: 
"Guess Til take a shower. Okay?" 

"Okay," I said. 

She walked away and I heard the water spurt on, the first crash 
and then the steady downpour. I moved over to the sofa and sat 
where she had been sitting. . . . 

It was a good arrangement we had — good, that is, in the morn- 
ings, pretty rotten other times. I mean the convenient accident of 
living not only in the same apartment house but on the same 
floor, virtually in the same apartment. (Accident? But perhaps we 
would never have fallen into adultery if the accident hadn't oc- 
curred first. Can an accident be its own convenience?) I see I must 
say a word about the house itself, however. It was the standard 
pre-World War I urban dwelling house of Chicago and most 
Middle-Western cities: a unit three stories tall, with one apartment 
to each story — "Pullman" apartments, they are called, from their 
resemblance to the old sleeping cars. Each apartment had an inner 
corridor running from front to back, with eight rooms opening off 

162 



it, though there were also direct connections between most of the 
rooms. The front room had a bay in one corner, with three tall 
windows, so that from the outside each three-story unit appeared 
to have a single tower at one corner, leading it off on a slanting 
course like a ship with a lopsided prow. Often this asymmetry was 
rectified by building two units side by side or with a single shared 
partition; sometimes there were four, six, or eight such jointures, 
or a whole blockful — the units were uniform and interchangeable, 
all culled from the same architectural source; but often, too, a 
single unit would be left standing by itself, as you can see it in a 
painting by one of the realists — Sheeler perhaps? — with the hard 
Middle- Western sky above and behind it, and the vacant rubble- 
strewn lots, called prairies in Chicago, extending on either side. In 
a neighborhood of decaying gentility such as ours, these apartments 
were often divided into smaller accommodations, sometimes even 
into single rooms, but more usually into two four-room apart- 
ments, four rooms in the front and four in the back; a practice 
considerably accelerated during the housing shortage after World 
War II. And even though these cut-down apartments were fur- 
nished with individual locks, there was still a good deal of intimacy 
between the tenants of the front apartment and those of the back: 
they shared that inner ( "Pullman") corridor; which meant that a 
person could go from the front apartment to the back one without 
being seen at all on the outside — in the main hall or on the stairs. 
A convenient accident, as I said; for I occupied the front half of 
such a divided apartment, and Charley and Alex occupied the back. 
The house stood on the corner of Woodlawn Avenue and 45th 
Street. 

The manner in which these accidents came about — if they were 
accidents — was simple enough. After that first stormy night when 
I had met Charley and Alex at the home of Cienkiewycz, I con- 
tinued to see them from time to time, and then with increasing 
regularity. They were not members of the primary circle of ac- 
quaintances among whom I had to spend a good deal of time by 
virtue of my job: people from the university, artists and writers, 
a few of the wealthy who solaced their hours away from meat- 
packing and railroading with the company of the local intelli- 
gentsia. But Charley and Alex soon became close members of the 

163 



smaller circle in which I spent my better hours, so far as my 
enjoyment was concerned: a mixed group, but having in common 
a certain honesty, openness, genuineness, which made them the 
natural society for Charley. Alex, of course, was welcome anywhere, 
everywhere; all she needed to do was arch her bosom a quarter of 
an inch and the Dalai Lama (bless him) would have invited her 
to lunch. Cienkiewycz was on the fringe of this smaller group, too 
much interested in his home to spend much time away from Palos 
Park; usually we saw him only when he invited us to come out, for 
he found means to evade our invitations to come in. Others were a 
young antiacademic bookstore owner from the university neighbor- 
hood, an instructor at the municipal junior college, a semantically 
minded piano player who worked in a modernist trio at Christy's 
Mill on 55th Street and read Korzybski between sets, a graduate 
physicist at the university who was engaged in a mysterious experi- 
ment on the "creep" of plastics and had to return to the laboratory 
every two hours day and night to take measurements, no less than 
three female painters, the director of publicity at the union stock- 
yards — well, a complete list isn't necessary. Wives, husbands, 
sweethearts, of course, were included or at least tolerated. It was a 
drinking crowd; everyone was fouled up one way or another — that 
goes without saying in those years after the war. I was convalescing 
from divorce, ridden one day by bitter misogyny and two days later 
by devouring lust — as battered, between these extremes, as a de- 
feathered shuttlecock. We met mostly in each other's rooms, or in 
the saloons of the South Side. 

My association with Charley and Alex was closer than with any 
of the others, or at least soon became so, if only because we lived 
in such intimate proximity. Not at first, of course. After that first 
meeting at the home of Cienkiewycz, I continued for some time 
— perhaps two or three months — to think the two would not marry; 
their dissimilarities were too great, close to antipathies. So I 
thought, so everyone who knew them thought. But as I learned to 
know them better I saw, not that the dissimilarities were illusory 
— in fact they weren't, but were, then and later, as plain as day — 
but that Charley and Alex could not see them, were totally blind to 
them; and this too continued, inexplicably, to the very end of their 
relationship. But they weren't in a hurry to be married. Then sud- 

164 



denly they were. What hit them, God knows; something, some- 
thing hot and hard. Not lust; they were sleeping together. But 
some celestial bolt of sentiment that knocked them on the tops of 
their bedazzled heads, with the result that they must be married 
immediately — with the further result that Charley must find a 
place for them to live in immediately. Not an easy thing to do in 
those times; but by accident (again!) the rear half of my floor fell 
vacant at that moment, and what was more natural than my offer- 
ing to introduce Charley to the landlord? It was done. With the 
now known consequences. 

For more than two and a half years I was the front tenant, they 
were the rear tenants, and we made splendid neighbors, supping 
at one another's tables, sharing one another's wine and salt, giving 
one another little presents on birthdays and Christmas, bringing 
to one another our problems (though not the really intimate, 
troublesome ones), taking care of one another's flats when vaca- 
tions came around, etc., etc., etc. Charley consulted me about the 
problems he encountered in his reading, about the proper conduct 
of a young man on the way up, about his night studies to become 
a draftsman and ultimately (he hoped) an architect. I can't remem- 
ber that I ever took to him any problems of my own. Except for 
the trials of writing, which I discussed endlessly, of course, with 
writer friends, I kept my private despairs to myself, nursing them 
alone — they were too messy to expose to others. But certainly I 
shared many interests with Charley; I taught him, for instance, all 
I knew about jazz, which was a lot, and we shared our record 
collections; then in 1950 we bought the MG, a model TD in bright 
red with an Abarth muffler, Weber carburetors, the standard equip- 
ment. The following spring (1951) was the time of Charley's acci- 
dent, or perhaps I should say the MG's, since Charley survived it 
without injury (thanks to the roll bar and safety belt), while the 
car was sold for parts to Kurt Bergomann for $300. In all this 
Alex played no active role, of course, and so far as the racing went 
not even a passive one; but she was there, we were friends, we had 
respect for one another's capacities. . . . 

That summer — our momentous summer, 1951 — Charley decided 
at last that he was a sufficiently "well oriented American" — his 
term, picked up no doubt from Cienkiewycz — to apply for natural- 

165 



ization. Often in the evening he came to my flat with a few records, 
and after we had listened to them and discussed them, we primed 
for the examination: names and dates of presidents, Declaration 
of Independence, Constitution, wars, battles, voting procedures, 
names of contemporary federal and local incumbents, the whole 
rigmarole. Charley was tough, on himself and on me — he asked 
the goddamnedest questions I've heard from anyone, and sent me to 
a good many steamy hours in the pages of the World Almanac 
and the Encyclopaedia Britannica. He was determined to have it 
all cold— the whole business — from Peter Minuit to Harry Truman. 
It was absurd, the judge wouldn't be interested, the examination 
was a simple matter of one or two questions; but when I remon- 
strated with Charley, I got the impression that nothing mattered 
in the world but his own self-knowledge, when he stood before the 
court and took the oath, that he was a thorough American, which 
for him meant primarily a "well informed" American. There were 
no drafting school classes in summer, and through June, July, and 
August Charley beat the books, memorizing everything — at night 
in the hot flat, during weekends on the porch of the cottage at Lake 
Jones. He was a demon. And he was scared stiff by the time the day 
of his examination arrived. 

Which was today. So I remembered, with a start, as I leaned 
forward on the sofa to scratch a particular spot on the small of my 
back. And then — the party for Clambert Fillermine. Lord, Lord 
— a hot day and too much to do. Why not climb in the car and go 
away to the green fields of Wisconsin and sleep in the shade of 
a. ... I got up and went into the bathroom, where Alex was still 
moving around in the shower, making athletic noises. I looked at 
myself in the mirror. 

Same old mug. A mug's mug. "Mug, mug, mug. . . ." "What?" 
Alex said. "Nothing." Black hair growing on a bulbous skull like 
old cobwebs on a battle helm in the cellar of a museum; a beard like 
iron filings; hooked beak; evil eyes, hemirimmed in white, with 
bruised flesh gangrening underneath. The face no one could love. 
She didn't love it, I was confident of that; but it held her, she 
was, for the time being, addicted to it, and she would never, never 
forget it, I was equally confident of that. . . . Obviously I had a 
hangover. I'd forgotten it, and was glad to be reminded — it's the 

166 



sort of thing a man shouldn't put too easily out of his mind. I went 
to the icebox and got a cold can of beer, with the moisture beaded 
on its rouged and polished face like sweat on the face of a corpse. 
I opened it and took it back to the bathroom and sat on the John 
and drank it. The coldness and bitterness were delicious; they sat 
in my stomach like money in a bank. Alex was humming the theme 
from the slow movement of the fourth Brandenberg Concerto, but 
interrupted herself. 

"What are you doing?" she asked, raising her voice above the 
noise of the shower. Steam was billowing from the curtain, fogging 
the mirror. 

"I'm having a beer." 

"Give me a swig." A dripping hand and arm wound through the 
opening in the curtain, a thick stem of orchid winding through 
the humid rain forest. I gave it the beer can; it receded and after 
a minute reappeared. "You haven't forgotten Charley's naturaliza- 
tion?" 

"No," I said. 

"What's the schedule? Do we still have to go to that party for 
what's-his-name — the English poet?" 

"Yes. No way to escape it, at least for me. You going to the 
courtroom with Charley?" 

"Of course." 

"What time?" 

"Ceremony's at three." 

"Then you and Charley can come to the party afterwards. You'll 
probably get there about four. We can duck the party at five or 
five-thirty, I think " 

"What about dinner?" 

"You two are eating alone, aren't you?" I assumed Charley 
would insist on that at least. 

"He wants you to help celebrate. Says it's your doing as much 
as his." 

"That's ridiculous. But I don't mind helping — naturally. Where 
shall we go?" 

"Charley wants to go to De Jongh's for the snails. Then after- 
wards we're supposed to pick up the rest of the crowd at Christy's." 

"I see. What about lunch?" 

167 



"Can't." 

"Why the hell not?" I'd been counting on it. 

"Date." 

"Date! Who the hell with?" 

"Don't be so huffy, you're supposed to be calmed down now. 
Why don't you take a shower?" 

"I will if you ever get out of there. Who's your date with?" 

The shower stopped running. The orchid reappeared. "Give me 
a towel/' Alex commanded. 

I did so, and in the silence which followed I set the empty beer 
can on the tiled floor with a little clink. In a moment Alex, bright 
red and with the towel draped like a wimple over her head and 
shoulders, groped her way through the shower curtain. A cuculate 
lobster. 

"Who's your date with?" I asked again. 

"Go on, take your shower, for God's sake." 

She began rubbing herself some more. I climbed in and turned 
on the water, and soon I heard the bathroom door open, then the 
icebox door. I stood under the hot water, face turned up, thinking 
about my bones. Not a jealous bone in my body, not a jealous 
bone in my — just old bones, bones for the bone picker, fossils, 
pickled bones, alcoholized, limp rubbery bones, smelly bones, 
but . . . coming alive in the warmth, diluvial warmth, equatorial, 
Jurassic; coelacanth lifting bleared eyes through the warm slime. 
Dissolution and resolution. Ecce homo! Not a jealous bone in my 
body. . . . 

"Who the bloody ignominious hell is your date with?" Alex 
was sitting on the bed, eating herring from a jar, when I came out 
of the bathroom. 

She smiled and chomped a morsel, and patted the bed beside 
her to indicate I should sit down; which I did. She swallowed, and 
put the jar on the night table and stuck the fork in it, and kissed 
me — cheekbone, nose, lips, throat, lips again. I put my hand along 
her chin and kissed her well. 

"You stink of fish," I said. 

"You forgot to shave." 

She put her arms very closely around my neck and shoulders, 
and we fell back, her thigh slipping between mine. 

168 



"Insatiable," I said. 

"Yes." 

As luck would have it, I was moderately insatiable myself that 
morning. . . . 

Afterward she went back to her flat to dress; and I shaved 
quickly and dressed myself quickly, thinking I might finish before 
she did. But when I entered Charley's living room — once in it I 
always knew it was Charley's, not hers — she was sorting things 
into her purse while she sat, dressed and ready to leave, on the arm 
of the sofa. She snapped the handbag shut, looked at herself 
quickly in the long mirror that hung on one wall, twitched her 
hips and smoothed her skirt. She made a kissing motion with her 
mouth toward me and opened the door. 

"Who's your date with?" 

"Friend of Dinkoe's." 

"What's his name?" 

She shut the door, and her footsteps hurried down the corridor, 
shump-shomp-shump on the carpet, through the outer door, clup- 
clup on the bare wood, down the stairs, tunchy-tunchy-tunchy on 
the stair carpet, one flight, turn the corner, second flight, ten steps 
on the bare wood of the second story, third flight, turn the comer, 
fourth flight more faintly, clickety-clickety on the vestibule's dis- 
tant marble. . . . The house door squealed and the latch burped . . . 
clackety-clack on the brick steps . . . was it she? — or another noise 
in the house. . . . She was gone. 

I looked around Charley's living room, so familiar. The big 
threadbare secondhand sofa, gift of a friend. The new armchair 
upholstered in broad shiny stripes, crimson and beige — Charley 
had chosen that, unaware of the vulgarity. Dear Charley. There 
were his books, the shelf of uniform bindings in sedate blue — the 
American Treasury — Charley's treasury, so well beloved. . . . Damn 
Charley! 

Damn me, damn my rotten jealous greedy insatiable soul! 

Damn Alex. . . . 



169 



CHAPTER 32 



February now. We had our midwinter thaw last month. The 
snow is old: yellow and tabid. In the meadow the southern slope 
bares its moss, russet and gray, shifting like sea colors as the clouds 
pass over; and in the forest by the brook the willows are as yellow 
as parsnip flower, by the pond the alder stems are reddening. 
People here say we shall have more snow before long, blizzards and 
fierce Canadian winds perhaps, and it's true the winter has not 
ended — yesterday I broke a hemlock branch but no sap flowed. The 
sun is warm though, the brook is full. The forest has a faint musi- 
cal sound — unidentifiable. The seasons interfuse; in winter the thin 
ice on the brook blossoms like ferns, in summer the bluejays cry 
of a barren land. And only a week or two ago I saw a milkweed 
pod that had filled last August on the roadbank split and loose its 
feathered seeds; the wind whirled them across the snow and into 
the dark frozen woods, life dancing in the domain of death. It is 
all mixed together. 

I have been working hard. Very hard, in fact. I must finish this. 
But if three pages a day are done, I fall into exhausted stupor, so 
obdurately do these old memories resist my shepherding: I must 
whip them, lash them, herd them with dog and stone — until I am 
lame, bleeding. I thought physical labor would refresh me, and went 
into the woods to cut fuel for the fire; and I found many aged 
pines carrying a weight of dead branches, which I have been 
trimming away, carefully, neatly, so that the trees are handsome 
again and grateful. I carry the sticks and logs on my back, a heavy 
load. It drives my knees through my shins. I walk the last hundred 

170 



yards to the cottage on bruised stumps through the snow. I fling 
down the logs and my legs vanish, and when Linda comes to sit 
on my lap she sinks through to the chair. Madness — such sensa- 
tions of the unwilled, unwilling flesh. My body is insane. . . . 

Linda's is rational, I should say. At any rate it vomits every 
morning after breakfast, which is the only sane response to our 
diet of bread fried in salt pork, morning sickness or no. My money 
has gone, nearly all of it; and still so much remains to be done. 
But I get plenty of milk for her to drink from Harley Marion, the 
dairyman, who is one of the few people here that were kind to 
Linda in former days. I told him I couldn't pay him. "Forget it," 
he said. "It ain't no hardship on the cow, what she drinks," and 
he nodded his head toward Linda. All he asks is to be permitted 
to see what I've written. Each Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday 
he stops with four quarts of milk, and then sits at the table in the 
kitchen to read the new installment. "That Alex," he says, "she's a 
topper now, ain't she?" And he gets up and winks at Linda and 
pats her belly — no offense, none whatever — and goes out the door 
shaking his head. Linda won't drink the milk, though. It's a good 
day when I've persuaded her to take two glasses; one is usually all 
she can manage. I've tried everything — cajolery, lovemaking, even 
anger — but that, of course, didn't help, she only cried harder than 
ever. I make soup, potatoes and cabbage boiled in frankfurter 
juice, and she likes that the best, though I suspect it isn't so much 
a question of liking as a desire to show she is happy to have me 
make soup for her. She takes the vitamin pills I bought for her, 
eight dollars a bottle. 

Next Wednesday is Saint Valentine's Day, and I've been won- 
dering what to give Linda for a Valentine; but I don't know 
whether or not she understands. How can I explain? We can say 
love and sex and hunger and hot and cold and I-have-to-go-to-the- 
toilet and look-at-the-pretty-bird and — many things. But saint? 
Saint's day? Celebration? It's hard to tell if she understands such 
things. Perhaps it is better not to give her anything, though I am 
deeply in need of giving. . . . Perhaps, on the other hand, she does 
know about Valentine's Day, and will be disappointed if she 
receives nothing; perhaps she learned of it in childhood. I don't 
know. I don't know what I could give her anyway, what could 

171 



possibly arouse her interest at this point. Even her bells are 
neglected. I have tried hard. One of the reasons the money is gone 
is that I bought art books for her, expensive books that cost twenty 
dollars at the bookstore in Salisbury; and for a while she looked 
at them, turning the pages slowly, backward and forward, her long 
thin hair falling over the pictures. But I wasn't careful enough. 
One of the books contained a dozen or so reproductions of Goya's 
cartoons. You can imagine the result. 

She is the only woman I have known whose weeping does not 
exasperate me. 

If some of the people I have been writing about could see what 
I am writing here they would say I am driven by guilt for having 
made Linda pregnant. Oh, I remember well that hard tone of voice, 
the smart voice, the city voice. But it is not true, I swear it. Linda's 
child will be my child — my sanity! She is creating it. I am doing 
my best to create her, I swear it. 

When I write she stays in the kitchen, looking out the window 
at the chickadees and tree sparrows. When I am in the woods . . . 
I don't know what she does then, of course. Often when I come 
home she is pouring the coffee. She must watch for me all the 
time I am away, because she cannot hear me coming. 

Guilt? That is absurd. There is no guilt in the world now, or else 
so much that it can no longer be felt. Only pity is real. Pity and 
this infinitely tender love. 



172 



CHAPTER 33 



In the woods I sometimes encounter Alfred, who comes there to 
chop sticks for his fireplace also. Alfred keeps a workshop; he 
makes colonial weather vanes — copper roosters, horses, and fishes, 
which he sells in summer to the tourists who come to visit the 
Berkshires, a profitable trade. But it is more than a business with 
Alfred, who is an artist; he is dedicated to the perfection of his 
weather vanes, aware of his role in society. No two weather vanes 
are exactly alike, he says, and he takes great care in weathering 
them, aging them; indeed, he has sixty-five weathering now in the 
field behind his house, under the snow. "You'd be surprised," he 
says, "how quickly the patina grows." Yes, Alfred is an artist, and 
like all artists he makes a creative use of fakery. He does not pre- 
cisely tell his clients that the weather vanes are genuine colonial 
antiques, but neither does he tell them that they are not. He is 
silent on the matter, as an artist should be. One cannot give away 
one's secrets. 

Alfred worries a good deal about his relationship to the world. 
"The television," he says, "all those news reports — terrible, terrible. 
Makes a man feel kind of lost, doesn't it? — out of everything. What 
good are weather vanes now, with so much suffering and fear every- 
where?" We rest from our labors, sitting side by side on a fallen 
birch with our axes, like hieroglyphic birds, perched where the 
blades have been driven into the log. But Alfred says he would go 
nuts working in a factory or an office — "crazy as a coot," he says. 
Hence he doesn't know what to do. 

Momentous, indeterminate speculations. "It's a problem, all 

173 



right/' I say to Alfred. But mostly I keep my thoughts to myself, 
like a proper middle-aged man. I think: the nation, by which our 
ancestors meant the cumulative historical ethos, has given way to 
mass civilization, and the characteristic features of the tradition 
have ceased to be decisive forces. They survive — in the library, the 
classroom, the studio, safely hermeticized. What good is that? 
And I am not thinking now of Athens or Florence or the scalds, 
or of anything particularly grand; I have given that up. I am think- 
ing instead of the homelier, nearer earth: of Ethan Allen and 
Lyman Beecher and Trumbull, Winthrop, Brewster, Alcock, 
Brainerd, Bulkeley, Stiles, Allyn — of all the voices unheard, un- 
wanted, unremembered. The dead are a mixed lot. Some had the 
vision of humanity, though. . . . Library, classroom, studio: necrop- 
olis. Today poets live there, but of their own accord, and so that's 
all right — perhaps. But what about Charley, the plain man caught 
up in the vision of humanity, the irregular survivor? How ground 
down he is between the mass of unguided desire and the mass of 
inalterable history! I do not wish anyone to think that there is an 
implied morality in what I am writing. Remember, I am hopeless, 
because I know enough of history to rejoice in my incompetence. 
All I am suggesting is that after a long time — half a century? a 
century? two? two and a half? — of falsely arrogated sensibility, the 
artist must now surrender his title as homme d 'esprit if he is to 
save his self-respect at all. It belongs to Charley. . . . 

I dream about Alfred often, always the same dream, though in 
various disguises. Once he was cutting a slender beech sapling with 
a huge ornate axe, a battle-axe, but he made a bad job of it and the 
sap gushed from the wound and spilled over the rocks like a cata- 
ract of champagne. Another time he was sitting in his field, sur- 
rounded by his copper roosters and horses and fishes, all milling 
around peacefully like good domestic animals; and he was flinging 
some sort of feed to them from a bucket he held between his 
knees — it looked as if he were throwing out scraps of bloody flesh, 
but the animals gobbled it up before I could see properly. Alfred 
winked at me and said: "It's all right, I've made sure the meat is 
poisoned this time." 



174 



CHAPTER 34 



A few minutes later, when I myself was clonking down the brick 
steps disgruntedly, it occurred to me I might have taken the oppor- 
tunity in Charley's living room to look for his gun and see if there 
were any shells lying around. I still could have gone back, pretend- 
ing, for the sake of any onlookers, that I had forgotten a book in 
my own flat; but I didn't. The hell with it, I said to myself. 

I found the car a block down Woodlawn, where I'd left it the 
night before, climbed in, methodically rammed the car in front and 
the one behind to make room — a technique all good Chicagoans 
must learn sooner or later — and pulled out and headed down 
Woodlawn toward the 39th Street entrance to the Drive. Filth 
everywhere. Newspapers flopping in the street like decapitated 
chickens. Graystone and yellow brick housefronts decaying, peeling, 
scaling: the caries of urban blight. Shopwindows grimed with soot, 
cobwebs, grit; signs broken and hanging askew from their brackets; 
old placards drooping; scatologia and brutality crayoned densely on 
every wall. At 37th and Lake Park Avenue the intersection formed 
a triangular island, which held a statue of some meat-packer — he 
ought to have been astride a rampant pig and waving a cleaver, but 
he wasn't, he stood there with his hand on his belly like Yeats visit- 
ing the schoolchildren. Newspapers embraced his ankles — the dirty 
present pleading with the gross and nefarious past. A wrought-iron 
fence enclosed the tableau, leaking rust. Do not think I exaggerate; 
Chicago is a city in which the corruption is exceeded only by the 
misery, corruption so deeply embedded in the whole organism that 
the occasional infusions of rationality at the top never purge the 

175 



rottenness from the bowels, the heart, the million limbs. Over it 
all, that day, hung the whitish sky like a winding sheet; but the city 
had been imperfectly mummified: it was still alive, stirring greasily 
in its cerecloth. 

I shifted down satisfactorily, double-clutching, and ground the 
old Chewy in first around the big turn of the ramp; silly perhaps, 
in such a car, but I always liked to get the most out of her. The 
lake heaved restlessly and oilily at the stone barrier, lipping over 
occasionally like an enormous vulva. The color was citrine; on the 
horizon the water department's red brick pumping station smeared 
the haze like a swatted mosquito. I pushed the Chewy into a slot 
in the traffic and headed downtown. Damn fool, damn fool, damn 
fool, I said to myself. I wished I had gone back to look for that 
gun. 

I was hungry. Hunger, I've discovered, is the worst thing in the 
world for nerves. I looked at my watch: twelve-fifteen — with luck 
Fd reach the office before Paula and Rollo went to lunch, in which 
case I could go with them. Of course, everyone would be in a dither 
over Fillermine today, Lord knows how the schedule might be 
upset. I goosed the Chewy a bit anyway, and bent toward the 
inner lane, easing forward cleanly between the white stripes. Damn 
fool, damn fool. I couldn't convince myself of the soundness of 
Alex's complacency, not in my bones, where it counts, nor in my 
fidgety heart; but at the same time I knew my fear was more a 
function of my shame than of the objective circumstances. A fool 
doubly damned. In my mirror I saw a cop crossing lanes about 
seven cars back, a black and white car like a skunk — you couldn't 
miss him. I let the accelerator ease off, glanced at the speedometer, 
then pushed on past a matronly Oldsmobile that was riding the 
white line. Moreover, it wasn't the thought of an unexpected shot 
in the back that disturbed me ... at least I didn't think it was, 
though to tell the plain truth I couldn't decide from one minute to 
the next whether I was afraid of Charley's gun or not; a question of 
wavering, coming up close to the fear and then being so fearful of 
the fear itself that I backed off again into courage. Doubly, triply 
damned. . . . But there couldn't be the slightest doubt that I was 
afraid of Charley's wrath, of his discovery — without knowing pre- 
cisely what form it would take. Simply being known by Charley as 

176 



the man who was sleeping with his wife, that was the sword which 
hung over my head. Involuntarily I looked at the ceiling of the 
Chewy. Nothing there but the stained plush. I lit a cigarette; the 
smoke plummeted through my guts like a bubble of vitriol, and I 
gagged slightly, sucking my navel in close to my spine. I looked at 
the cigarette — god-awful tack! But I swallowed my repugnance and 
took another deep drag, and my hunger abated somewhat. Clearly 
my attitude toward Charley was still love of the boy . . . man, I 
should say. No other explanation could lie at the base of my fear 
and self-loathing than the extreme reluctance to give pain to 
Charley. This was what shook my voice like a housewife shaking a 
dust mop whenever I spoke to Charley now, this was what made 
my hand tremble when he came into my presence. And yet . . . 
and yet every morning I awoke in knots of anxiety and expectation, 
thinking of the minute when I should hear Charley's footsteps 
scuffle down the corridor, down the stairs — eight-seventeen or 
eight-eighteen usually — because then the way would be clear for 
Alex to come to me. And on Saturday and Sunday mornings, 
when Charley didn't work, she couldn't come, I was ill with hatred. 
On the mornings when she chose to go back to sleep instead of 
coming to me, I burst in on her, raging like a wounded boar. I took 
her in her own bed. Charley's bed! And every moment of it, kissing 
her, touching her, climbing between her feet, I knew that what she 
gave me was not worth the sacrifice of even a scrap of Charley's 
love. What she gave me — nothing! Except the possession for an 
hour of that hot, pulsing, magnificent flesh. Oh, Alex, were we 
given sex for the sake of bondage to the likes of you? 

Do not misconstrue me, I wouldn't have been in such a fix at 
all, probably, if I hadn't cherished sex, or some idealized view of it. 
Look at my poetry. It's all there. But adultery? Rationalize it any 
way you like, you can't make it natural: not in our society, not in 
our time. And by "our society" I mean roughly the whole historical 
complex issuing from the marriage of Abraham and Sarah. Was 
there ever an adulterous love in this swatch of human history that 
was — merely comfortable? Could the adulterous man and woman 
ever look at each other with untroubled eyes? What happened to 
Abraham and the Egyptian bondwoman? But of course no one 
knows what happened to the bondwoman; probably nothing, 

177 



probably she looked straight into Sarah's eyes the next morning. 
Because the women are unperturbed, only the men suffer agony. 
How could I not know it, with Alex always in my mind, her slow 
gaze burning me without a trace of remorse? And she loved 
Charley! Make no mistake about that, she was the one who may 
have loved him the most of all. . . . It wasn't that Alex organized 
all life to suit her own bodily and temperamental desires. She was 
one of the world's few human beings who can say to themselves 
that they cannot organize life at all, not one little patch of it, not 
even the atom of it lodged in their own skulls. She acknowledged 
this freely, willingly; and then took — no, permitted — whatever 
came along. God, what a creature! 

Not a man in the world could do it. 

The Chevvy's tires sang on the metal openwork of the bridge, 
then hummed down the hill. I took the left lane for the left turn 
at Grand Avenue, but as usual I had to wait for the green arrow. 
Then the Inner Drive to Huron Street, and one block west to the 
parking lot. When I reached the office, the time was twelve-thirty- 
five and I had to use my key to get in. From habit, I looked at the 
wire basket of unread manuscripts, and saw that it was stuffed; it 
was always stuffed; this time, in fact, the stacked envelopes had 
spilled over onto the wrapping table, where a couple of dozen of 
them were soaking up the water from the upset sponge dish. Great, 
I thought, just fine — nobody's taken a manuscript out of that 
basket for a week. And immediately was plunged into one of my 
perennial moral dilemmas. Paula and I were the only paid members 
of the staff, and she was secretary-office manager-receptionist-filing 
clerk-subscription clerk-check writer-inventory clerk, while I was 
editor-production manager-advertising manager-circulation mana- 
ger-publicity director. Reading unsolicited manuscripts wasn't her 
job, and I didn't have time for it; the volunteers were supposed to 
do it. And how can you admonish volunteers if they don't keep up 
to scratch? Instead you must thank them for volunteering in the 
first place and hope like the devil they don't poop out on you 
altogether. But if they volunteer for a job they damn well ought to 
do the job, shouldn't they? At the same time, they are human 
beings, and it just isn't human nature to. . . . You see what I mean. 
I grabbed thirty or forty envelopes in my fist and started toward 

178 



the back room, where my desk was. On the way, the middle dozen 
squirted out — like pumpkin seeds — and then the whole stack 
sprayed onto the floor. Sweet Jesus, blast these manuscripts! Blast 
the idiots who wrote them! On my hands and knees in the dust of 
thirty years, I collected the manuscripts. Vile, vile! At my desk I 
opened my briefcase and rammed the manuscripts inside. 'Til take 
them home tonight," I said aloud. 

In the bottom drawer of the second filing cabinet next to 
Paula's big desk in the front room, I found the bottle of Imperial 
and put about two ounces in a water glass. I lit a cigarette, and then 
walked around the office as I drank and smoked. It wasn't often I 
had a chance to be there alone. I loved that office. I loved the job, 
the only job I've ever loved, and gave myself to it heart and soul; 
and in turn the job gave me as much as a man can hope to get from 
work. Not in money, Lord knows, since the salary was very small. 
But I was the youngest editor ever to have charge of Pegasus, 
perhaps one of the youngest men ever to edit any literary magazine 
as important as Pegasus. I don't mean to be conceited; I got the 
job through a fluke, at about the time of my divorce — it saved me 
from the wildness that was close beside me then. I was proud of 
my job, but at heart very humble too. Now I walked back and 
forth in the three rooms, savoring the dust and dirt — literary dirt 
that was so much more palatable than the city dirt outside — 
warming myself in the heat that seemed to be generated in the 
files of back copies stacked high along the walls. Many famous 
poems and essays were in those old magazines, much heat had 
gone into them, and a little of it remained there still — so it seemed 
to me. 

You can tell by the old-fashioned name — if you don't know 
already — that Pegasus was an old magazine, and by all the laws of 
literary evolution it should have either folded or gone moribund 
years ago. It was founded in 1897, back in the days of Moody and 
the Vagabond. But it hadn't gone dead. On the contrary, when the 
"new poetry" came along before the First World War, Pegasus had 
the sense to side with Pound and Eliot and Fletcher and the rest, 
and it had been a chief organ of the avant-garde ever since. There 
had been some depressed periods, all right; damned depressed; and 
damned depressing when you go through the old files — the spark 

179 



had burned low for quite a while. But then things picked up again, 
and under my editorship Pegasus seemed to be flourishing. Not that 
I can take much credit. It was simply a matter of knowing whom to 
write to for contributions, and I was not bashful about asking. In 
1948 there was still more good material lying around than maga- 
zines in which it could be published, and I had been snooping long 
enough to know who had the good stuff. It came to me, I published 
it, I fired up a few controversies with my own editorials — shameful, 
stupid trash, I now know, but at least opinionated enough to catch 
people's attention. That was enough, that got the mechanism 
started; and by 1951 things were running smoothly; all I had to do 
was keep on top of the incoming manuscripts, deal with the 
printers, advertisers, distributors, etc., and worry about money. Not 
that that wasn't work enough. 

The ofEce comprised three rooms on the ground floor of a small 
stone building on Huron Street east of Michigan Avenue, a neigh- 
borhood of somewhat arty shops, somewhat arty people, somewhat 
arty saloons — all far too somewhatty to be taken seriously. Indeed, 
one of the saloons was owned and managed by a retired officer of 
the Syndicate, as respectable a fellow as you'd care to meet. Chi- 
cago lacked a genuine Bohemia; there was the slumland of junkies 
and grifters on North State around Division Street and Bughouse 
Square, the domain of Nelson Algren, and there was a little 
dilapidated island of painters and jazz novelists on the South Side 
near the east end of 57th Street, sustained by memories of Lorado 
Taft and Frank Teschemacher; but neither of these could claim 
the depth of internecine intellectualism that makes a true Bohemia 
useful to the artist or the community at large. As for the univer- 
sity, it was a fake Gothic enclave where in battlemented towers old 
and young graybeards, sealed away from the grime of the city, 
puzzled out the hard fate of Gil Morrice or the precise executive 
relationships between the chairman of the Atomic Energy Com- 
mission and the Cabinet. Nothing the matter with that, I suppose. 
And of course there was that infamous squash court under the 
university stadium where the first controlled nuclear chain reaction 
was set off. ... A queer-looking place though, the university. 
Somebody once told me that Thorstein Veblen, when he was teach- 
ing there, was observed one afternoon ducking curiously this way 

180 



and that as he walked across one of the quadrangles, and at the 
same time squinting timorously upward. When asked what he was 
doing, he replied: "It's those goddamn crossbowmen up there. 
Man, look out!" — and he pointed toward the crenelations on the 
surrounding roofs. Another time he spent a delighted hour walking 
around behind a party of workmen who were, under orders from 
higher up, sowing grass seed in the cracks of the flagged walks. 
Passersby noticed that he was smiling broadly — a rarity — and 
rubbing his hands. 

What Professor Veblen said, or would have said, about Pegasus, 
I can't be sure, of course, but he might have held that it was 
another case of growing grass on sidewalks. At any rate, a lot of 
money had been pumped into the magazine over the decades, and 
nothing equally negotiable had ever been known to come out. It 
was a continual chore to raise funds, a disagreeable chore. Part of 
my editorial duty was writing hundreds of requests for help: letters 
to rich men or, more commonly, their wives; to foundations; to 
institutions of any kind that might conceivably put up a few 
thousand dollars; and regularly I traveled east and west in search of 
money. Almost all this activity was futile, and Pegasus continued 
to be fed, as he had been from the start, chiefly by handouts from 
local patronesses, the society matrons of Chicago who could be 
bullied or cajoled into subscribing five hundred or a thousand 
dollars a year to the cause of the city's cultural prestige. This was 
accomplished by means of an indirect suggestion that their own 
prestige — social prestige — would ultimately be served, something 
far beyond my capacities; it was Rollo's province. 

We couldn't have been luckier. Rollo presented the exterior of 
a perfect con man, the type whom everyone can recognize but 
whom rich middle-aged ladies can never deny. Handsome, peren- 
nially forty-nine years old, with a trim rufous mustache; no 
observable wife; a trifle less than middling tall; in other words, 
sexy, gallant, polished, a suggestion of the military, yet still com- 
pliant, submissive, subjugable. Irresistible. Remember, I said this 
was the appearance. Rollo could turn it on and off like a neon sign. 
Actually, he had a wife to whom he was devoted, an unfortunate 
slip of a girl who was more or less permanently confined to a sani- 
tarium, and he was an unhappy, good-humored, hard-drinking man 

181 



like the rest of us — except that he was well off. Not rich; but he 
had made enough in the grain elevator business in Iowa to set 
himself up comfortably for the rest of his life. He could have been 
rich, we were all convinced, if he had wanted to be. He was a 
characteristic figure of our time — the superb businessman who hates 
business. He had quit when he had enough, and had become the 
magazine's staunchest volunteer. He managed our finances and our 
ladies; without him — especially as printing and paper costs began 
to rise sharply after the war — we would have folded quickly, there 
can be no doubt whatever of that, and I wish he could have a 
paragraph or at least a footnote in some literary history of the 
future; he deserves it a lot more than the punk poets and prissy 
short-story writers who will be there in his place. In his fund-raising 
capacity, Rollo's trick was simply to see that the ladies had three or 
four good parties a year, and to make sure that the Tribune's society 
photographers were in attendance. The blowout for Fillermine was 
one of them; and the astonishing part of it was that Pegasus didn't 
put up a cent — the Blackstone's ballroom, the liquor, the deco- 
rations, the engraved invitations, the whole damn shebang came 
. . . I'm damned if I know where they came from, out of thin air 
maybe, or more likely out of the ladies' own pockets: they had their 
party and paid for it too. It was Rollo's doing. The middle room of 
our office had been assigned to him, and there at his desk, which 
was set in the darkest corner of the room, facing the wall, Rollo 
brooded and hatched and brooded, reading unsolicited manuscripts 
betweentimes by the light of a desk lamp with a blue fluorescent 
bulb. His taste was good and I trusted him to help me get through 
the burden of mail, though he tended to go overboard for poems 
in the manner of Elinor Wylie. By accident I discovered one night 
the reason for this; I was at his house, having a few drinks, and 
when I went to look for the John I opened the wrong door and 
found myself in his bedroom, where I saw a photograph of his 
wife on a large bedside table that was loaded with books. The 
resemblance to Mrs. Wylie was extraordinary, filmy veil and all. 
I sat down at Rollo's desk and pressed the button on the fluores- 
cent lamp: the curious cold blue light flooded down on the 
blotter. I looked up, but my eyes were forced down again by the 
dark walls, the dark filing cabinets, the dark shelves of letter boxes 

182 



which surrounded the desk; I felt as if I were in a cockpit — or a 
womb. At that desk attention could not stray from the ovum; here 
Rollo bent over his conceptions in concentrated oblivion — the 
lonely lovemaking of work. For the first time I felt the whole force 
of his misery. It smoldered like a deep, dying ash in that pit. 

More than ten years have passed since that time, yet I remember 
Rollo well; more clearly, in fact, than others who were closer 
friends. And I remember him particularly in a scene which was 
wholly a vision of my imagination, though for that reason perhaps 
truer than the rest: Rollo as a man of twenty-five, in his vest and 
shirtsleeves, his white collar and cuffs well starched, his gold watch 
chain hanging loose from his vest, sitting by a country stream in 
Iowa on an afternoon in spring, reading the poems of Elinor Wylie 
to his beautiful, frail young wife. 

With a certain reluctance, I switched off the lamp then, got up 
and walked into the inner room, which was my own workplace. I 
stood with my whiskey in one hand, the cigarette in the other, and 
surveyed my domain. It was less tidy than Rollo's, less intense. The 
view was broader, the desk more cluttered, the table where I "made 
up" each issue of the magazine was littered with strips of paper 
left over from cutting and pasting the proofs. A portable- typewriter 
case hung lopsidedly from the hatrack, letters and envelopes lay 
heaped on top of the filing cabinets where they had been waiting, 
perhaps for years, to be filed, the photographs on the walls hung 
askew and were thickly filmed with dust: one was a picture of the 
Revered Founder sitting on a wicker settee with Rabindranath 
Tagore, who was wearing a white robe; another showed Yeats 
seated at the big desk in the front room, his white hair tousled, his 
expression uncharacteristically joyful — I used to wonder if he 
hadn't been hoisting a few before the photograph was taken. My 
desk was littered with papers; the address file was open, and stamps 
were spilling from the Chinese box that I kept them in. I had no 
inclination to sit down, not with my nerves jumping and too many 
complexities on my mind. Yet the scene — certainly there was 
enough detail, even in the little space, to qualify as a scene, and 
much of it seemed to be growing naturally, as in a landscape — the 
scene was a soothing one for me, and I imagine it would be for most 
writers. I remember a photograph of "Thomas Mann at Work," 

183 



which showed the author in a starched collar and tie, smoking a 
huge cigar, sitting at a carved mahogany desk as big as the Presi- 
dent's, staring at a pile of manuscript; perhaps he actually worked 
in such quarters, I don't know, and very likely there are writers, 
the Hollywood sort, who work in offices with bleached modern 
furniture, cocktail tables of inlaid tile, glass walls, etc. But most 
writers form an image of the writer's workroom early in life, a 
place of clutter and dust and comfortable broken furniture, con- 
veying at the same time an impression of hard work and an aura 
of sanctity. Few writers ever find such a place; but I had found 
mine, and it shed an additional numinosity for having been occu- 
pied by several famous poets before me. It isn't simply fantasy- 
making to say that I felt their presence, because I did; not in any 
cheaply psychical sense, but as if the good work they had done 
here had imbued the objects of the room with the power of in- 
ducing further good work. A lucky feeling — and no doubt all 
nonsense. Still, I don't think any young artist should be denied, or 
should deny himself, the far from insubstantial reassurance which 
comes from communion with his predecessors in the special places 
that evoke their characteristic power and goodness. 

I wandered back to the front room, a bigger room than the 
others. Paula kept it reasonably presentable, but it was a place of 
work and looked it. There were wrappings on the floor, the sponge 
dish for moistening stamps had, as I said, spilled over, the maga- 
zine rack which held exchanges needed rearranging. Paula's desk 
was huge, about six feet long, with a slatted top that rolled up 
and down between little tracks at either end. There were dozens 
of pigeonholes, all stuffed. Her typewriter was a big new Reming- 
ton, the best in the office, and she had two telephones and a buzzer 
on a small table at one end of the desk. Her chair was a tall-backed 
swivel chair; and both the chair and the desk had originally been 
the divan (in the older sense) of the Revered Founder. . . . There's 
no point in sentimentalizing Paula. She knew where everything 
was, she knew how to make reapplications for second-class mailing 
privileges, she understood the copyright law, she kept the books, 
mailed out proof, and remembered the names of all the poets in 
the world and their addresses and the names of their current 
mistresses and their addresses. Not a single small business office 

184 



anywhere could function for a quarter of an hour without such a 
person to supervise it, and since there are hundreds of thousands of 
such offices, there must be hundreds of thousands of such persons 
— devoted, intelligent, hardworking. Paula had been a drama 
student and actress, but had abandoned her hopes when she dis- 
covered she was far too nervous ever to succeed as a performer. 
She was saddened by this, no doubt; but at the same time so re- 
lieved to have escaped her stage fright that she was quite happy in 
her role as head stable hand for Pegasus. In addition, she was a joy 
to the rest of us: cheerful, quick-witted, shy, pretty — she would 
have been quite lovely if she hadn't always had lipstick on her 
teeth and cigarette ashes on her blouse. 

I sat down in Paula's chair and tried to imagine what it would 
be like to be her. This is an exercise which I suspect most men 
attempt from time to time. I never get far with it myself: just to 
the point of thinking what a ghastly discomfort it must be to have 
breasts that bump up against the edges of everything. I didn't try 
to force matters that day; but gave up quickly, finished my drink, 
took the glass back to the seaweedy washbasin in the middle room, 
and departed, glancing with my usual pang of pride at the out-to- 
lunch sign on the door which hadn't been moved, so far as I knew, 
once in the past six years. Paula and Rollo had probably gone to 
the Domino Club for lunch, and I walked south on a street whose 
name I've forgotten (parallel to Michigan, one block east) two 
blocks, and entered the dark barroom. Paula and Rollo were 
sitting in a booth at the back, and I sat down next to Paula. 
There was nothing on the table except an ashtray. 

"Hello. We wondered where you were," Paula said. "We've been 
over at Schreiber's getting some last-minute things." 

"Last-minute things? I thought you'd gotten everything days 
ago." 

"Forgot the special napkins," Rollo said. "You always forget 
something." 

"Napkins? Doesn't the Blackstone supply . . ." 

"It does." Paula adopted a patient, explaining tone. "These are 
special napkins for Fillermine to sign. You know, autograph. Made 
out of some kind of paper that will take ink, but they still look 
like napkins." 

185 



'Tor the ladies," Rollo added. 'To take home with them." 

"What will they think of next?" I said. "Have you ordered?" 

"Yes," Rollo said, waving to one of the waitresses. "What'll you 
have?" 

"Martini." 

"Do you think you should?" Paula asked. "We decided we 
wouldn't — today." Her cigarette waggled in her lips as she spoke. 

"You mean because of the party? But I feel like hell." 

"You look all right," Paula said, squinting at me through her 
cigarette smoke. 

"I look like hell and you know it," I said. 

"You always look like hell," she said. "But you look all right." 

"I'll still have a Martini." I said it a trifle aggressively and 
immediately wished I hadn't. 

Rollo looked thoughtful. "Maybe we all need one," he suggested, 
sighing. "We can go easy this afternoon, and God knows there's a 
lot to get through before things get started. What do you say — 
it'll give us a new dimension in life?" 

"Hell is paved with new dimensions," Paula remarked absently. 

The waitress came up and pushed her pneumatoid abdomen 
against the end of the table. "Hold the steaks," Rollo told her, 
"and bring us three Martinis." 

"Okay," she said. "I figured you'd change your mind." Then to 
me: "What do you want to eat — same as them?" 

"Yes," I said. 

Rollo and I lighted cigarettes; Paula squashed hers in the ashtray, 
and then immediately lighted another. I decided not to say any- 
thing about the beer and whiskey I'd already had, especially since 
they hadn't done any good, but I wondered, as always in such 
circumstances, whether or not my breath smelled: I sucked hard 
on my cigarette and blew a fat cloud of smoke into the aisle. 

"Where's Fillermine?" I asked. 

"Down at the university," Rollo answered. "The English faculty 
is giving him a lunch." 

"Will he show up?" 

"Damn well better," Paula said indignantly. Like most people 
who work on literary magazines, she didn't care much for writers. 

"He'll show up," Rollo said judiciously. "Pocksman's got him in 
tow. Pocksman's reliable." 

186 



Ralph Pocksman was the university's eighteenth century man, 
specialist in the pre-Romantics. His book on Blake had been re- 
viewed in The New York Times Sunday book section — more or less 
favorably. 

"Yes," I said, "Pocksman will show up all right, you can bet on 
that. I got a batch of poems from him a couple of weeks ago. He'll 
come nosing around to find out what I think of them." 

"Good," Rollo replied. He eased himself down a notch, sliding 
his fanny across the polished wooden bench. "You know, I wasn't 
as confident as I sounded — about Fillermine getting here, I mean. 
But if Pocksman has got an axe to grind, we're safe. He'll get the 
guest of honor to the appointed place on time come hell or high 
water, if I know Pocksman." 

"The poems any good?" Paula asked. 

I wrinkled my nose. 

"Well, for God's sake, don't tell him that!" Rollo puffed smoke 
out of his lips vigorously. "Let him rest easy for today — as a reward 
for good deeds." 

"Okay," I said. 

The waitress came back with the Martinis and put one in front 
of each of us on paper doilies. The glasses were beaded with 
moisture and little sparkling fragments of ice clung to the rims. 
We said cheers and each had a sip. 

"I must say," Paula said, "the first sip is a blessing. Nectar for 
the gods." 

"Yes, well, I just hope they're not pouring too much of this 
nectar into old Fillermine right now," Rollo said. "Be a hell of a 
note if he shows up crocked. He's got to be presentable for the 
photographers." 

"Don't worry," I reassured him. "Fillermine's not much of a 
boozer now." 

"No?" Paula asked. She spilled ashes on the table and swept 
them onto her skirt with a deft stroke of her palm. 

I explained: "The English tradition — or whatever it is. You 
know, they booze like hell to age forty-three and then suddenly 
they become public figures with public responsibilities and they 
quit. I don't mean they quit drinking, they still put it away by the 
jugful, but they stop showing it." 

"Like Churchill," Rollo put in. 

187 



"Exactly. His booze must run to hundreds of dollars a year, 
maybe thousands, but nobody calls him a lush." 

"What's he like?" Paula asked. 

"Churchill?" 

"No, silly. Fillermine." 

"Well, you—" 

"Never met him," Paula interrupted. "But I've heard he's very 
handsome." 

I pulled on my cigarette and looked across the dimness toward 
three businessmen in faintly striped suits who had their heads close 
together. "Yes, he's good-looking," I said. "Fantastically good- 
looking. Probably the best-looking poet alive." 

"He'd have to be to catch five wives," Rollo said. 

"Six, isn't it?" I replied. 

"The Tribune says five." 

"Maybe they don't count the one that died," I said. 

"Is he married now?" Paula asked. 

"No. At least I don't think so. You can't be sure. . . . Anyway, 
he's good-looking — " 

"How?" Paula interrupted. 

"Oh, he's tall. Very tall for an Englishman. And he's got a 
good strong face. And a hell of a lot of hair — wavy hair. Mostly 
white now, I guess — but that only adds to the effect." 

"You know," Rollo said, "what he really looks like is an Ameri- 
can, maybe a Texan. Not an Englishman at all." 

"That's it," I said. "A real broad-shouldered type. And he dresses 
like an American too. None of those little dickey-coats, or whatever 
you call them. Good suits, nice shirts, ties tied with a Windsor 
knot — the whole business. I tell you, Paula, he'll knock you off 
your feet." 

"Not me," Paula said. She stamped her ballet slippers dumpily 
under the table. "I only go out with sailors." 

"Thought I detected a rolling gait," Rollo muttered. 

Paula blushed. "Now look," she said. "You've made me blush. 
You know I hate it." 

"It's very becoming," Rollo said. 

"Shows your modest upbringing," I added. 

"Modest upbringing my foot! It's a simple neurotic response. 

188 



If I wanted to get laid by a sailor, why in heaven's name shouldn't 
I say so?" She blushed again, violently. "Oh . . . oh . . . you see? 
Just like a sunset, a bloody technicolor sunset! Damn/' She hid her 
face in her hands. "Go on saying what you were saying, will you?" 

"What I was saying was that Fillermine will probably knock 
you off your feet." 

"Well, that won't do any good, will it? What you want him to 
do is knock the old whores off theirs." 

"Exactly," Rollo said. He folded his hands on the table and 
leaned forward. "Exactly. I'll tell you something. I hadn't intended 
to say so before, but — well, if this party goes off and if old Filler- 
mine performs as expected, we stand to do better on this than we've 
ever done on anything." 

"Why?" I asked. 

But before Rollo could answer, the waitress brought the steaks — 
our usual one-dollar pieces of flank, surprisingly edible. That's one 
point in Chicago's favor: the meat is good. Rollo unfolded his 
hands and leaned back, and we swallowed the remains of our 
Martinis while the waitress slammed our meal onto the table. We 
dug in. I remembered, gratefully, how hungry I was. 

After only one bite, however, Rollo resumed his subject. "Look. 
I'm pretty sure, almost dead sure, we've got Mrs. Rheinklugel this 
time, the old fruit. She's coming, she promised Mrs. Carlow and 
Mrs. Prunier she'd come with them. I tell you, if we can once get 
her into a picture with Fillermine, the Trib will give it full play — 
you can count on that. The Rheinklugels are too damned important 
to neglect. And if that happens, I think I can go around to their 
place next week and get a fat check. I mean really fat." 

"Watch it, Rollo," I said. "You're letting this thing run away 
with you." 

Rollo's voice slumped, along with his shoulders. "Maybe I am. 
Just because her husband owns three stockyards and two railroads, 
or something, doesn't mean that — " 

"Don't pay any attention to him, Rollo," Paula said. "He got 
up on the wrong side of somebody's bed this morning. You can do 
it, I know you can." 

Involuntarily I caught my breath and a mouthful of salad entered 
the wrong pipe: I coughed and gasped. In my choking, pure bio- 

189 



logical panic seized me, the body fighting for life; but it subsided 
quickly. "I'm all right," I said. 

Paula was pounding my back, and Rollo had half-risen from his 
bench. 

"I'm all right," I said again. I took a sip of water. 

Rollo sat down. "You should be more careful," he said. "People 
choke to death that way." 

"It's that rotten salad—" 

"Say," Paula interrupted, "there's nothing wrong with the salad, 
except it tastes awful." She turned to Rollo. "You know when he 
started choking? When I said something about him sleeping in 
somebody else's bed." 

"Yes," Rollo said unenthusiastically. He wasn't interested in the 
byplay Paula and I habitually carried on. He was sorry the con- 
versation about the party had been broken off. 

Paula said: "Tell us whose bed it was, Mister Editor. Who's the 
lucky husband whose wife is putting out for the greater glory of 
Middle- Western literature." 

I wasn't enthusiastic about this line of discourse myself. "Noth- 
ing like that, Paula," I said. "Just this rotten salad — " 

"Salad my kneecap," she said. 

"I still think I can get a good contribution out of Mrs. Rhein- 
klugel. If she shows up," Rollo said. 

"Good," I answered quickly. "I didn't mean to be a wet 
blanket, Rollo. If you think it can be done I'm sure there's a good 
chance. God knows, we need it." 

"Exactly," Rollo said. "It all depends on Fillermine. Whatever 
you think of his poetry, he's — " 

"I think his poetry is damned good," I put in. 

"Well, whether it's good or bad, at least he's famous — about the 
most famous poet we've had passing through here in five or six 
years. It's a break for us. And he is handsome. And charming — at 
least I guess he is." 

"Most people think so," I replied. 

"Okay. But is he cooperative? That's the point. Mrs. Rhein- 
klugel is a fool. Worse than that, she's a damned tedious fool. Not 
to be confused with our real supporters. Why should Fillermine 
put up with her? She's nothing to him." 

190 



"But poetry is. I know, that sounds hopelessly corny. But when 
you get down to it, this whole business is shot full of corn, even if 
we do spend half our lives trying to disguise it. And perhaps the 
corn isn't a bad thing. The point is, Fillermine knows our troubles, 
if only because he's been connected with half a dozen literary 
magazines himself, and he knows what we're trying to do to over- 
come them, because it's the same thing that every little magazine 
does. And he believes, damn it! He believes in what we're doing, 
same as we do — otherwise we wouldn't be here and neither would 
he. He's a good poet. I'm a good poet. Both of us have ways of 
covering it up, and neither of us especially likes the other, but we 
both know we're good poets and we both know what we have to do 
to keep poetry going — it's an obligation we were born with, or at 
any rate one we accepted a very long time ago. Don't worry, he'll 
help — all you have to do is say the word to him." 

"Will you say it?" Rollo asked. "I've never spoken two words 
to him. I mean I just talked to him a couple of times on the 
phone." 

"Okay, I'll ask him." 

"Good." 

"What don't you like about him?" Paula asked. 

"His accent." 

"Just British, isn't it? What's the matter with it?" 

"I don't know. It just doesn't go with him, for one thing. In 
fact his whole personality doesn't go with him. He looks big and 
handsome and intelligent and . . . well, American. Strong and 
likable. Then he opens his mouth and this little crappy accent 
comes out — " 

"What do you mean little crappy accent?" Paula interrupted. 

"He talks the way they do at the London School of Economics." 

"Horsepiddle! What do you know about the London School of 
Economics?" 

"Nothing." 

"You've never even been in London, have you?" 

"You know I haven't," I said. 

"Well." 

The steaks were finished. The waitress brought our coffee, and 
we put in sugar and cream and stirred, without saying anything. 

191 



'Tell me what I should do, Rollo," I said, when we had lighted 
our cigarettes. 

"Nothing. Just be there. Be a good host." 

"Yes, I know that. But what time? Do you want me to do any- 
thing beforehand?" 

"No. The invitations said three-thirty. If you're there by four 
that'll be soon enough." 

"All the dirty work has been done by your loyal henchmen," 
Paula said. 

I was quiet a moment. Then I said: "I know. Don't think I 
don't." I have learned that an unexpectedly heartfelt word from 
time to time is worth any amount of flattery. "Shall we go?" I 
said, after another pause — breaking the tension of my candor. 

We walked out of the air-conditioned dimness into the heat and 
glare of the street. By the time we reached the office, all of us were 
half sick from Martini, cheap steak, and sunstroke. 



192 



CHAPTER 35 



At my desk, tilted back in the creaky chair, my feet crossed on 
top of the typewriter, I watched my cigarette smoke rising like a 
blue vein toward the ceiling: at a certain point the vein writhed 
and broke, for no apparent reason — not an air current stirred in 
the little room. Perhaps it broke of its own accord, from the tension 
of its own slender beauty. Paula was talking on the phone in the 
front room, but I couldn't distinguish her words. The White Sox- 
Browns game on the radio in the basement, where a cabinetmaker 
kept his shop, was perfectly clear, however. The Browns were at 
bat in the third inning; no score. Rollo was occupied with his silent 
thoughts in the middle room. I jogged my cigarette a sixteenth of 
an inch, and watched the tiny spasm climb up the vein of smoke. 
Why write poems when nature produces these symbols so effort- 
lessly? — but that was all settled two hundred years ago. Make 
yourself useful, for God's sake. 

I reached for the briefcase, dropping my feet noisily from the 
typewriter, with the intention of getting out the stack of new 
manuscripts; but then decided I should have another look at the 
Pocksman poems first — just in case. I liked Pocksman. He was 
thirty years old, long-legged and short-waisted, pasty-faced, not very 
bright, inclined to get somewhat overjoyed at parties; but he was 
friendly and good-humored and . . . interested. He asked questions, 
that was his amiability, he listened, he wanted to know — at least 
more than most of the university people. How did you happen to 
think of this? he would say, hauling out a copy of the Nation and 
pointing to a line in your latest poem; which (no matter what 

193 



anyone says) is a damn pleasant thing to happen when youVe just 
published a poem. Yes, yes, he would say, I see, I see, and then, of 
course, you, etc., etc. Very good for a rainy Saturday afternoon over 
a few beers at Christy's Mill. 

Pocksman's manuscripts were in the Second-Look File. Frankly, 
this was a hell of a place for any poems to be. Limbo, nothing 
more or less. The poems which for one reason or another the 
editor couldn't or shouldn't or wouldn't dispose of immediately 
went into the Second-Look File, where as likely as not they re- 
mained for months. Some poems in there had been filed away by 
the predecessor of my predecessor — old, creased, smeared sheets 
that I looked at from time to time with spiritless guilt and then 
replaced. Lord knows what the poets thought. Maybe they were 
dead. ... I reached for the folder in the bottom drawer of my 
desk. The Pocksman manuscripts were on top where I had put 
them a week or two before, a dozen gleaming pages of stiff, ex- 
pensive bond, neatly and blackly typed, pinched together by a 
bright copper paperclip. The first poem was called "Office Hours": 

Hoping so much that she is all pencils and 
eyeglasses, clinging meekly to my desk: 
"I think I understand, sir, I think I . . ." 
Hoping so much that she is all incunabula. 
And the four corners of my wordy skull burst 
like the four winds, professors of compasses. 
"Oh, thanks, sir . . . just love your classes . . ." 
Hoping that she is all inkstains and that 
points-of-breasts won't jut against her blouse. 

And so on, another ten lines; Lord, Lord, if only he wouldn't hit 
that dead level, that exact dead level. Five thousand manuscripts a 
month come in to us, and four thousand are this poem, the dead 
sea scrolls — in many shapes, many sizes, various tones and colors 
perhaps, but this level, damn it! — over and over again. You come 
to love the people who copy verses off greeting cards and send them 
in under their own names, they are so blessedly, idiotically fraudu- 
lent. What's the matter with Pocksman, couldn't his gray heart 
feel the encounter with this coed? Surely if he had felt it, his feel- 

194 



ing would have forced some clarity of organization on the poem, 
some quantum of originality out of his imagination. . . . No, that's 
wrong. That's the temptation — to say Pocksman didn't respond — 
but you've got to resist it ... to the death even. He did, he un- 
doubtedly did, poor old Pocksman, feel it, his timid lust was 
genuine, and his fear for his wife too. He probably hadn't slept 
half the night, thinking about that girl's bosom — and the winds, 
the professorial winds. He had his fingernails on a good thing 
there, perhaps. But it got away from him, it will always get away 
from him, forever and forever. Damn Pocksman. Hasn't he ever 
read anything good, can't he tell? Presumably he's read Blake at 
least, if he wrote that book about him — but all for nothing, except 
a scrap of a new theory about the influence of the Epimetheus 
legend on certain parts of the Book of Thel. A question of com- 
parative sensibilities. Pocksman is moved by some of the good 
things in Blake and he is moved by his own poem, and he cannot 
tell that one is not of the same quality — no, he wouldn't say 
quality, he's too modest — but the same order as the other. . . . 
Professorial winds; a good incongruity. Something might be worked 
out of that. Fillermine — how would he do it? Something in shock- 
ing understatement, you can be sure, with an abstraction or two 
thrown in, a prosy rhythm and some ironic rhymes. . . . 

The philological patina of her blouse — 
Forgive me, the morning by implication only 

Said in her conic breasts carouse, carouse, 
But the room was damp, and I . . . 

Drop it, drop it — even fake Fillermine, even parody, wouldn't be as 
absurd as that. . . . 

But the room was damp, and I inopportunely 
Coughed — 

Drop it! Idiot, that way madness lies — understand? Madness, mind 
running wild. Yet Fillermine might have done it, might have pulled 
it off, you never can tell. A word changed here, a cadence there, and 
you pull a good poem out of a burlesque like a foot pulled out of a 

195 



sock. Fillermine would know the trick, a word in the first line or 
two that burgeons reflexively with moral energy when you look back 
on it, a leer toward the end to show that sex really stands for 
politics. . . . Oh, well. 

I threw the manuscripts down on the desk. Pocksman, at any 
rate, was no one for such antics : but you couldn't help feeling that 
at age thirty he ought to have learned to keep his verses at home. 
Would he become one of the mad inexorable ones? Would my 
successors be returning unacceptable poems to him ten years from 
now? Twenty? There were such stalwarts, insane, monomaniacal — 
I knew their handwriting well, and the individualities of their 
typewriters. Nothing could daunt them. But Pocksman was a man 
close to literature, an academic man, perfectly sane, as rational as 
a textbook. Yes; at forty. But at forty-five, or fifty-five? Insanity 
begins in a disguise; only at the end of the party, when everyone is 
drunk and wild, is the mask ripped off and the hideous face re- 
vealed. . . . Pocksman had enclosed a large, five-cent Manila 
envelope, addressed and stamped, with his manuscript, and Paula 
had slipped it under the copper paper clip at the back of the sheaf. 
I undipped it and put the manuscript inside, and licked the flap — 
an ashy taste on my dry tongue. I got up and took it into the front 
room and dropped it in the basket for outgoing mail. Pocksman 
would get it in the morning. 

Paula had on a party dress and fresh lipstick; she had been to 
the ladies' room to change. For the first time I noticed her over- 
night bag under the wrapping table. She and Rollo were ready to 
leave. Rollo was irreproachably dressed, as always: a soft shirt, 
neutral-colored Palm Beach suit, yellow shoes — no, I don't mean 
yellow, that would leave the wrong impression, but shoes of that 
curiously elegant color of ... all I can think of is laundry soap, and 
why that should be elegant I can't say. A translucent beeswaxy 
color. Is that any better? Fifty-dollar shoes anyway, you can bet on 
that, and in perfectly good taste, given Rollo's general appearance 
and social tone. He said: " We'll go down early — to make certain 
everything is in order. See you later?" 

"Yes," I said. 

"No later than four?" 

"All right," I said. 

"Pocksman?" Paula asked, and nodded toward the out basket. 

196 



"Yes," I answered, keeping my sigh barely audible. 

Paula shrugged elaborately and went out. With his hand on the 
door, Rollo said: "At least he won't get them till tomorrow." He 
went out too, closing the door softly behind him. 

I went to look at myself in the scurfy mirror over the washstand. 
How did Rollo contrive it? — to look so unworn. I saw a wrinkled 
collar, seams of grime and sweat on my face. Eyes like decapitated 
mice. The mirror with its scaling silver took little patches out of 
me, as if a wind were blowing through me. A professorial wind. 
Absurd! . . . 

Ethical wind; wind of principia; the bounden wind, calling across 
the world. Absurd! 

As I drove home to change, a new weather plunged across 
Chicago from the plains, as so often happens in that flat country; 
a sharp wall of cold. The air flowing in my car window changed 
abruptly. I looked out over the lake. Different strata of clouds 
intersected overhead, moving at different speeds, revealing different 
colors. The wind was long and steady, the waters of the lake wal- 
lowed in irregular upheavals, a tethered cormorant struggling to rise 
into the air. The trees along the Drive bent before the wind. 

The world bird floundering in his wounds 
Writhed on sodden wings, and a low cry 
Rode on the four and fatherly winds 
Across the rising immanence of the world. 

More absurdity. Unintelligible pain; injury. At home I let the 
lukewarm shower drain away my sweat and grime, thinking the 
water might restore my sense of orientation. The water beat against 
the shower curtain like wind on a beech forest rattling the leaves. 
The professorial wind. . . . What I had really been hoping was that 
Alex would be at home, returned from her luncheon. That was why 
I had decided to go ten miles for a shower and a clean shirt. But 
when I had knocked at her door there was no answer. I went in and 
found no one. I looked in the bottom drawer of Charley's desk. 
The gun was there all right, black and precise and evil against the 
papers that lay under it and partly over it. It rested there like a 
cat on an unmade bed. 

But what was I to do? Steal the gun? More absurdity. You can 

197 



do something to the firing pin so it won't work, I remembered. But 
I hadn't the least idea what. I closed the drawer and went to my 
own flat. 

In the shower I trembled uncontrollably, and the water crashed 
against the curtain like a huge wind breaking the windows of a 
hospital. 

When I left the house and climbed in my car, the air was still 
cool. My skin tightened over my ribs, an icy drop of sweat rolled 
down from my armpit. Death of cold, death of cold, death of cold, 
I thought. The trees along the Drive stared at me, crying their 
identities. My hands on the steering wheel vanished — all feeling 
gone. Where was I, for God's sake, what had become of me? Person 
was gone. The lake rose in grotesque shapes, struggling sadly. I 
was in the lake, gone to a new home. I saw the lampreys, millions 
and millions of gray-white worms twined in a great squirming 
mass, a horrible ganglia at the bottom of the world. Mindless, 
thoughtless. They said the lampreys were destroying all the fish in 
Lake Michigan, a great disequilibrium in nature, out of control. 
And now the fish were gone, and the lampreys in their evil were 
sucking each other, mouths tearing their own flesh, the mass of 
soundless agony at the bottom of the world. And the lake rose and 
fell, rose and fell. 

The spent lovers, pinioned in their evil, 
Woke in their mess and the eating chill, 
Wallowing, foundering breast to breast, 
And North and South and East and West 
Up trod the four and fartherly winds, 
Their long, uncertain, unsyllabled yell, 
A cold birthcry for a new cold world. 



198 



CHAPTER 36 



Late February now. We had our blizzard. Snow like heavy cream 
flows deep everywhere, drifted up to the windowsills, heaped in 
frothy waves beside the road. And still it snows, the wet and 
warming aftermath of the storm. The gray, unfriendly sky slavers 
on us continually, gouts and spittle in a damp wind. Even when the 
wind is from the northwest, it is damp. A Baltic sort of wind. 
Geography all bugged up, who knows where anything is? All the 
same, I go to the forest for my woodcutting, sloshing through 
the snow in my boots. Do you know the quality of a late snow- 
storm — ? Essence of malevolent nature. Walking now is like 
marching through a valley of tripe in a country inhabited only by 
blind, starving canaries. The apple tree is out of sight. 

Once in a while I have to get away from Linda's noiseless weep- 
ing for an hour. 

I bash the dead pines and snow-crippled birches, cursing with 
every stroke. 

From one day to the next my axe grows rust, an orange fur. I 
could oil the blade, I suppose, but as a matter of fact I have a 
theory that rust is the axe's self-sharpening mechanism, each night 
removing the little clefts and nicks that the day's encounters with 
frozen knots have imposed. Probably nothing in it. 

A gentleman by the name of Glenn has circumnavigated the 
globe three times in five hours by means of some sort of rocket, and 
is in consequence receiving the congratulations of almost everyone. 
Why not? I congratulate him too. He has done well. I am the last 
to suggest that what he set out to do was not worth doing. It would 

199 



be pointless anyway. The flight was an action precipitated by 
previous actions, the "course of events," and so there was never any 
serious question of not doing it. It occurred; it evolved; it — so to 
speak — grew. The serious question is, on the contrary, is it inter- 
esting? Superficially, yes — in the sense that you or I would probably 
be glad to step into the next room to look at a perpetual motion 
machine if someone took the trouble to build one there. But 
beyond that? Hardly, I should think. Can we who are fighting here 
for our lives in the world of reality take much serious interest in 
fiction, science fiction at that? 

The sky bleats, shedding its dirty wool. . . . 

By the way, if any of you were aware of the hiatus between 
Chapter 25 and Chapter 27, do not be disconcerted. I have cut out 
Chapter 26. In reading it over a day or two ago, I saw that if I left 
it in it would give the whole show away. 



200 



CHAPTER 37 



The Blackstone Hotel on Michigan Avenue, Chicago, is an 
honorable old stack, presuming honor is an adjunct of any explicitly 
public aspect of civilization. There are other hotels in town; a good 
many, in fact, since Chicago has always enjoyed a good business 
from travelers who had to stop there whether they wanted to or 
not: a question of the more or less fortuitous itineraries of the 
transcontinental railroads. Some of these other hotels are prettier 
than the Blackstone, more modern, more elegant, more expensive. 
On the other hand, a great many are uglier, older, less expensive, 
and decidedly less elegant. The Blackstone comes somewhere near 
the top of the list in these respects, but not at the top itself. Never- 
theless, if it is possible to extract an "essence" from the great 
American hotel myth, then the Blackstone is "essentially" Chicago's 
most honorable, most venerable hotel. Because for years it has been 
the gathering place of powerful men. Some of the juiciest deals in 
the manipulation of American industry — mergers of railroads, for 
instance — have been cooked up in the Blackstone, I have no doubt; 
and as for politics, the smoke-filled room, an indispensable element 
of American folklore, is virtually by definition a Blackstone room — 
this, I am sure, all politicos (if they have any sentiment for the 
traditions of their calling) will concede. Chicago is par excellence 
the city of political conventions. The jet airliner may rob Chicago 
of its status as the nation's foremost stopping-off place, but nothing 
will diminish its attraction to the politicos — nothing. The blandish- 
ments of Los Angeles, so sordid, so crass, may prevail upon one or 
the other party from time to time, but you can bet they will always 
come back to Chicago. Los Angeles is mistaken in its belief that 

201 



simply because a V-8 bosom over a twin-cam ass, hotly idling, will 
invariably pack the theater with paying spectators, sex must also be 
what the politicos are looking for. Far from it. Politicos are the 
least sexy of mankind; ask their wives; even their mistresses. After 
all, when you are hunched contentedly in conclave, totting up lists 
of delegates, rolling your tongue around a succulent fifty-cent 
Havana claw, soothing your ulcers with the larruping twelve-year- 
old sour-mash Jack Daniels that always appears at convention time, 
this is just when you do not want the irrelevance of some rutting 
broad draped on your shoulder. Fact. It is an axiom of all political 
theory that the center of a woman's brain is her pudendum; no 
idea ever occurs to her which does not concern passage one way 
or the other through that portal. Nothing implicitly wrong with 
this, of course, but. . . . It's a matter of power concepts, compara- 
tive study thereof. Chicago knows this. Take it as a general rule 
that all women fare badly in Chicago — you won't go far wrong. It 
is a man's city. Perhaps this is true of all prairie towns: Lewis 
Mumford would say they have no containing principle, essential to 
the femininity of a place. Be that as it may, Chicago offers no sex 
to the politicos at convention time, except to minor female dele- 
gates who must be shunted off to the fleshpots of North State 
Street to get them out of the way. Instead, Chicago offers the far 
more illuminating and encouraging spectacle of the stockyards. Just 
what the politicos require — a vision of God's creatures marching 
docilely into one end of a machine, from the other end of which 
issues a steady stream of money. Can anyone doubt that this is the 
inspiration which calls the politicos eternally back to Chicago? It 
is demonstrable that the important political orbit at convention 
time lies between the Blackstone Hotel at one end and the Union 
Stockyards at the other. 

If, in any presidential year, neither of the major parties selects 
Chicago for its convention site, a minor party is almost sure to do 
so: Prohibition Party (1869); Greenback-Labor Party (1880); 
Anti-Monopoly Party (1884); Labor Party (1884); Anti-Saloon 
Party (1886); Irish Nationals (1895); Prohibitionists (1900); 
Socialists (1904); Independence Party (1908); Progressive Repub- 
licans (1911); Communist Labor (1919); Farmer Labor (1920); 
Workers (1924); etc. In 1932 the Republicans, Democrats, Com- 

202 



munists, and Farmer-Laborers all convened in Chicago to watch the 
steers march in. Lord, there were some notable nuts in Chicago 
that summer, I believe. The first important political convention in 
Chicago — remember, the city was founded in 1832 — was the Re- 
publican gathering in 1860 which nominated Lincoln. A pretty 
lucky shot in the dark, you will agree. Since then, the Republicans 
have journeyed with great frequency to Chicago, hoping for a 
repeat, I suppose. So far without much success. On the theory that 
Lincoln was a Democrat at heart, the Democrats go there too, 
almost as often and with about the same results. Don't blame the 
Blackstone, though. If good bourbon, good tobacco, thick carpets, 
dark paneling, and well sealed chambers could produce good presi- 
dents, the Blackstone would be our true mother of statesmen. . . . 

I left my car in the parking lot by the Art Museum and walked 
to the hotel, debating whether or not to slip downstairs to the 
public bar for a fortifier ahead of time. No chance. In the dark 
lobby I saw Pocksman dancing toward me obliquely (pronounce as 
in the Army) among the ocher marble columns. Our hands met 
damply and fluttered together like tangled underwear on a clothes- 
line. 

"Hello, old man. Nice to see you," Pocksman tittered. 

"How are you?" I asked without enthusiasm. "Am I late?" 

"A bit late, old man. A bit. Most of the crowd's already here." 

"Ummm," I murmured. "Mrs. Rheinklugel?" 

"Not yet, old man." 

"Ummmm." 

I wondered about inviting Pocksman down to the bar, but de- 
cided against it when I remembered I had to avoid discussing his 
poems with him. I pulled out a pack of cigarettes and proffered it. 

"Thanks, old man — Pm a pipe-smoker, you know." He hauled a 
great knobby pipe out of his pocket and poked it into his dancing 
face. It clung there like a gourd on a vine. 

"Well, let's go." I made a grimace signifying mock-bravery. 

"It's not so bad, you know. Fillermine's a quite decent chap, 
once you get to know him." Pocksman gamboled a step or two, 
trying to fall into my stride. 

"I wasn't thinking of Fillermine." 

"No? Oh, I suppose you mean Mrs. Rheinklugel." 

203 



"Exactly." 

"Not a bad sort either, as a matter of fact. We made her a 
trustee of the New Augustans last spring, she really takes an in- 
terest, you know." 

By way of reply I stopped to drop cigarette ashes into an urned 
gum tree with elaborate circumspection. 

Pocksman was dancing on, trying to light the dottle in his pipe 
and talk at the same time. "I wonder, old [puff] man, if you 
[puff, puff] have had an opportunity [puff] to glance at those 
[puff, puff, puff] poems I sent you a week or two [puff] ago 
[puff, puff, puff, puff, puff]?" He coughed and struck another 
match. 

"Well, I haven't had much—" 

"Oh, I know how it [puff, puff] is. You editorial fellows — 
always deep in [puff, puff, puff] literary machinations . . . eh?" 

"Well, I wouldn't say—" 

"Still, I think perhaps [puff, puff] you might possibly find . . . 
something of interest? — yes, in the [puff] poems, you know. You 
see, I'm entering a new [puff, puff, puff] phase of my work ... so 
to speak?" 

"Very interesting. We must have a talk about it sometime." 

"Yes, I [puff] knew you'd be [puff, puff] sympathetic, old man." 
He was on his fifth or sixth match by now, and most of them had 
burned nothing but his fingers. "You see, I have this little — ah — 
theory, you might say, [puff, puff] about — ah — the function of the 
[puff, puff, puff] symbology of consciousness ... in the poem, you 
know?" 

"I see." 

"Yes, and — well, it's a question [puff] of . . . what you might 
call dialectics — the moral and libidinous centers of [puff, puff, 
puff] imagery?" 

"Sounds like a very useful con — " 

"Oh, yes — first-rate, you know. Really. I'm surprised myself — 
but, you know, all sorts of possibilities open [puff, puff, puff] up?" 

"I daresay." 

"Of course, there's a lot more [puff, puff] to it. I've got it pretty 
well worked out, you know, all the [puff, puff, puff] details?" 

"Of course," I said. 

204 



By this time Pocksman was striking matches and talking and 
dancing and puffing at such a rate that he looked and sounded 
more or less like a toy steam engine the moment before it blows 
up; and I began to wonder if I shouldn't do something to subdue 
him before we entered the ballroom. Again he forestalled me — 
danced precariously ahead, peered into the room, raced back, 
jamming his pipe — still unlit — in his pocket. "Ah," he said, "Filler- 
mine's talking with a bunch of those . . . Notre Dame instructors? 
You must allow me to introduce you to him." 

"As a matter of fact, we've already met several times," I said. 
Whether I realized that Pocksman's aim in intercepting me in the 
lobby had been chiefly the pleasure of officiating at this introduc- 
tion — whether I realized this before or after I made my reply, I 
can't at this moment recall. 

"Oh," Pocksman said. 

I motioned to indicate that he should go in before me. 

"After you, old man," he said, smiling and showing his carved 
mahogany teeth. 



Clambert Fillermine projected, like the Acropolis, above a huddle 
of overcrowded tenements, the shabby skulls of Notre Dame in- 
structors. Tan and fit, meticulously brushed, he gazed serenely, 
classically, impartially down upon his admirers. He was clad in 
smooth Palm Beach cloth and thin Italianate shoes. The instruc- 
tors, except for one, were clad in crumpled seersucker; the one was 
a very young, very round priest, whose black, sweat-soaked serge 
was mildewing before our eyes. 

"Of course, if one is committed, as I presume all of us are, to a — 
num, num — representational form of government, with its attend- 
ant benefits, then one must indubitably, I suppose, accept its 
attendant ills; among them being, as we see with increased clarity 
virtually every day, the segregation and, I may say, denigration of 
the arts as a matter of — num, num — public policy; and, indeed, one 
can scarcely expect more, can one?" Here the Acropolis describes a 
quarter-turn, so as to distribute its radiance on a new sector. An 
immaculate fingernail touches imperceptibly an unruffled eyebrow. 
"In an age of universal education, after all, the . . . ah . . . what we 

205 



may call effective electorate? — as distinguished, you see, from the 
enfranchised but apolitical masses of a previous era — the effective 
electorate, which has increased manifold, may easily impose not 
only its will but its — num, num — taste upon the procedures of 
government; but while, in an age of universal education, it may be 
feasible to raise the effective electorate to a status of technical 
literacy, very little can be done, one fears, to increase its intelli- 
gence or its keenness of sensibility. Just so. The dilemma of demo- 
cratic man, as you see, but cast in peculiarly and, I suggest, painfully 
contemporary terms." Here the hands touch, with no more than a 
faint intimation of wringing. "And yet, may there not be found in 
the old theory of representational authority an indicator of the 
solution?" Another quarter-turn here, a shade more energetic than 
the other. "I invite you, if you will, to consider the known but 
often forgotten fact that representational theory in itself nowhere 
requires a government whose authority derives — solely, at any rate 
— from the citizenry considered as a — num, num — indiscriminate 
conglomeration. On the contrary, the notion of proportional repre- 
sentation is, if you will forgive me [a cold smile here], a product of 
nineteenth century American political practice which, however 
suitable it may have been to cultural and social conditions in the 
United States a hundred years ago, appears radically unsuitable to- 
day. In fact, is it not true that the more or less forced imposition of 
the proportional system upon newly emergent cultures throughout 
the world, and even, for that matter, upon the traditional cultures 
of Europe, is accountable for much of the political . . . ah . . . 
neurosis which is now evident on every hand? But representational 
government has in the past often enough been organized upon 
other grounds, and indeed vestiges of former systems survive in the 
British House of Lords and your Senate, do they not?" Another 
judicious quarter-turn, a slightly deprecatory dropping of the 
hand. "Suppose, for example, that our parliamentary bodies were 
readapted to a multiplex society, suppose that our representatives 
were chosen as the delegates, not simply of miscellaneous units of 
population, but of purposeful groups — trades, businesses, profes- 
sions. Then artists, though insufficiently numerous to effect a 
controlling influence, would at all events be heard, and would no 
longer be submerged in the mass . . . ah . . . insensibility, so to 
speak. You will protest, perhaps, that the organization of such a 

206 



parliament upon lines of justice would be intolerably difficult and 
always subject to disagreement; but, in the first place, the system of 
what we may call purposeful representation need not be grounded 
merely upon concepts of privilege, as it so often has been in the 
past, and, in the second place, surely our instruments of sociological 
analysis have now reached a degree of — num, num — refinement 
which will permit the accurate collocation of social groups. On the 
other hand, bear in mind that the element of free choice might be 
retained by providing for the individual elector an unrestricted 
opportunity to denominate the representational group to which he 
prefers to belong. But these are technical matters. I feel assured that 
a revival of the notion of purposeful representation will be 
the . . . ," etc., etc. 

London School of Economics. To a T. 

After half a dozen further resonating sentences — they spilled 
from his mouth like water over the lip of a sluice — Fillermine 
caught sight of me, parted the circle of admirers with a delicate 
slicing motion of his hand, and floated toward me like a torpedo 
boat with its power cut. He shook hands perfectly: not one pump, 
like a German; not a dozen, like an American; but three, firm and 
vigorous and dry. No Gallic hand-on-my-elbow; no Viennese hand- 
on-my-biceps; no Roman hand-on-my-shoulder. Thank God for the 
English; they may be funny looking, but at least they know how to 
behave. 

"How pleasant to see you again," he said. 

"How are you, Clambert?" 

"Truth is, I feel awful." 

I was taken aback. "Do you?" I said. "You look fine." 

"Matter of climate, I daresay. Terrible tropical city, Chicago — 
as you know." He tapped his forehead. "All clogged up inside." 

"Well, I grant you—" 

"No, no, no — I mean my head. Not the city's. Actually, I rather 
like it. I mean the city." 

"Try a drink," I suggested. "Try some gin. Everybody in the 
tropics drinks gin." 

"I'm holding off. For the time being, you know. Necessary to 
keep on one's feet." He smiled. 

"Say, Clambert, were you ever a student at the London School 
of Economics?" 

207 



"Heavens, no. How curious of you to ask." 

"You talk like it — sometimes." 

"I talk like it! What a hell of a bloody American sort of a thing 
to say. I don't believe it." 

"Fact." 

He scratched his eyebrow. "How can you tell, if I may ask?" 

"You may. Absolutely pure essence of London-School-of-Eco- 
nomicism. Can't miss it. But tell me, Clambert, do you believe that 
guff you were handing out over there?" 

"Yes." 

"Well, damn it, are you interested in it?" 

"As a matter of fact, yes." 

"All right. Sorry I asked. Forget it. I guess I just don't under- 
stand the English." 

"We do try to speak more or less like civilized men." 



Cienkiewycz was there, also looking tan and fit. For that matter, 
Cienkiewycz and Fillermine superficially resembled each other; 
both were tall, beforehandedly gray-haired, handsome. The re- 
semblance went no further, though. Fillermine gave Cienkiewycz 
a good span in breadth of shoulder, and something also, I think, in 
depth of humor. Cienkiewycz, solely by adoption, was nevertheless 
a frontiersman — laconic, wry-tongued, independent to the point of 
near-crackpotism. A great Martini man too: nothing would keep 
him from the bar. And that was where I found him, his back to the 
rest of the assemblage, tilting an icy Martini to his lips. 

"Hello, Captain," I said. All of us followed Charley's mode of 
address in speaking to Cienkiewycz. 

"Mr. Editor," he said. 

We shook hands, and I took a Martini from the tray on the 
improvised bar. We both drank. 

"Good," I said. 

"You bet your life," Cienkiewycz said. 

"I suppose we really ought to hold off till Charley gets here." 

"You mean to celebrate?" 

I put down my drink and lit a cigarette. "Well, I expect he'll 
be pretty elated. Being a citizen means a good deal to him." 

208 



"Maybe he won't make it." 

"Oh, he'll make it all right. Couldn't possibly miss. Right now 
he can answer the judge's questions better than either you or I 
could, and don't think I exaggerate. He's been studying like a 
demon." 

Cienkiewycz pulled at his Martini, then turned around, facing 
the room, and leaned his back against the bar. "Then what the 
hell's been on his mind so much lately?" 

"Charley's?" I went on my guard. "Well, he's the worrying kind. 
Even with all his studying he tends to be afraid of the questions. 
But what do you mean?" 

"He looks like a mighty worried man to me. I wouldn't say it 
has anything to do with this citizenship business, not directly any- 
how. He's full of anxieties. Lost all his equanimity." 

"All?" I sounded surprised. "I hadn't thought it was anything 
as bad as that. A little let-down maybe, but. ..." I gestured with 
my cigarette and raised my Martini with the other hand. 

"No, something more than that. More serious." 

"You mean he's slacking off on the job?" 

Cienkiewycz tapped his fingers against his huge belt buckle. 
"No. Charley will always give you fair measure — fair measure and 
more. As an employer, I've got no complaints. But I can't help 
seeing that now he's working more from a sense of duty than for 
the love of it. His enthusiasm is gone." He looked at me squarely. 
"You know, Charley had more zeal for his job — in a quiet way — 
than anyone else I've ever seen, when he first came to work in the 
office." 

I glanced away, over the heads of the crowd. "Well, a certain 
loss of drive is normal, isn't it? And he has had this naturalization 
business pretty much on his mind. But I don't know what else." 
I was running scared now, without doubt. I hadn't the faintest idea 
what Cienkiewycz might suspect; I only knew he was shrewd 
enough to suspect something. The strain of the conversation was 
rising, and I felt the resonating implications of what was being said 
twanging, as it seemed, on every nerve in my body. Which meant I 
had to put an end to Cienkiewycz's line of inquiry immediately, 
either by forcing him to tell the real extent of his suspicions (which 
might turn out to be nothing) or by making him lie (out of 

209 



embarrassment) about having any suspicions at all. I turned to 
him again and gave him a point-blank question: "What's your 
theory?'' 

"General disillusion." 

Not very helpful. "Yes," I said, "but that's scarcely enough to 
account for this extreme anxiety you speak of. And it's not at all 
evident in his pursuit of the citizenship business. He hasn't slacked 
off any there." 

"No. I mean on the job." 

"But you said he was doing all right?" 

"In a sense. He does his work, does it well; he's beginning to be 
a good draftsman. But he knows now that's as far as he'll go." 

"Oh." Immediate draining of tension, flooding in of old stable 
emotions — affection for Charley, respect for the captain, confidence 
in juniper hooch. I inched a trifle closer to Cienkiewycz. "No 
hope, is that it?" 

Cienkiewycz turned on the ball of his foot, quickly, brusquely. 
He set down his empty glass and picked up a fresh Martini. "Great 
glabrous godlings!" he muttered — at least I think that's what he 
muttered. "Look, what have you got to be so happy about?" 

"Me happy? I don't—" 

"Come off it, for Christ's sake. You detest Charley and you 
know. . . . No, that's not right either." He lit a cigarette. "No one 
detests Charley, I guess. But I know you — better than you think. 
You're a poor fouled-up son-of-a-bitch, a second-rate artist, wrecked 
sensibility, neurotic misfortunate, outsider, alien, and so on and so 
on — the whole rigmarole. Well, all that means nothing to me, not 
a goddamn thing. See? For me the adjectives are so much offal, I 
shovel them out. A plain ordinary unadorned son-of-a-bitch, that's 
what you are, nothing more — and I should have told you so a long 
time ago." 

"I must say I had no idea you — " 

"I know. Hospitality of my house, pleasant conversation, all the 
old jolly bung-ho — so how come now I'm jumping on you? Well, 
lots of reasons. But the way your face lit up when I put my finger 
on Charley's rotten luck — frankly, I've never seen anything like it." 

I felt the conversation was turning wild, dreamlike, fantastic. 
But strangely interesting. I wasn't in the least disturbed. "I should 

210 



think you might consider the possibility/' I said, "that my feelings 
were caused by something quite different from what you imagine, 
something not related to Charley at all." 

"Impossible." Cienkiewycz swallowed a third of his drink and 
looked intently at the remainder, turning his glass slowly between 
his thumb and finger. "I don't say your immediate feelings and 
motives are known to me, though they may be. I simply say that in 
the rather concentrated tissue of meanings which had emerged in 
our talk it was impossible for your response to be unrelated to 
Charley. Maybe not Charley as an individual person, for all I 
know. Maybe just Charley in the abstract, what he stands for. But 
don't think that makes you any less of a son-of-a-bitch." 

I looked across the room. Pocksman was dancing from one foot 
to the other in front of the little fat priest. It was the courtship 
ceremony of an extinct species. 

Cienkiewycz went on: "I'll tell you what ought to be clear to 
you. There never was any hope for Charley. Do you understand? 
For Pete's jug-handled sake, I know enough about poetry to see that 
Charley is no poet, can't you try to know enough about architecture 
to see he isn't an architect? No, not you. You think words are the 
only passkey to existence. Listen. If I'd known Charley was so dead 
set on being an architect, I'd never have agreed to his coming over 
here in the first place. But I didn't, I only found it out when he 
arrived. Not that it would have made any difference. I think the 
point is this: Charley's ambition to become an architect, fantastic 
as it was, was deeply connected with his whole vision of life in 
America. Now God knows what will happen. Something. As I say, 
it all probably doesn't make any difference in the long run, not 
even your being a rotten son-of-a-bitch. Charley decided to be un- 
lucky long ago." 

Which was, I suppose, a rather penetrating remark. How true 
was it? I don't know. Charley certainly strove, he was a first-rate 
striven he came to this country, after all, he made an effort to alter 
his destiny. And he studied at night school, he worked at the shop, 
he pushed back when circumstances bore in upon him. The ordi- 
nary observer would have said that Charley's temperament was far 
from that of a fatalist. Yet I feel that Cienkiewycz was essentially 
right; Charley did make his own decision to be unlucky, and prob- 

211 



ably had made it long ago. As for Cienkiewycz, he said a few more 
words and then walked away to another part of the ballroom, and I 
never spoke with him again. I liked him, I still like him, and I've 
always thought we should have been good friends. I remember his 
words clearly and I've set them down here accurately. Odd that I 
shouldn't have altered them perhaps, but I wasn't tempted. The 
truth is I didn't know then and don't know now what to think of 
much that he said, there are so many imponderables. But I think 
perhaps I'd rather be a son-of-a-bitch according to his lights than 
a fine fellow according to most people's. Cienkiewycz was a pretty 
good son-of-a-bitch himself. How else could he have existed in the 
charmed and charming circle of Charley's creators? 



Cienkiewycz walked away among the other guests, treading 
deeply, it seemed to me, like a man entering the ocean. I watched 
him until he disappeared. I looked up at the ceiling, a high ceiling 
of molded plaster, supported by intaglio pillars and arches traced 
on the walls. At the far end, saffron sunlight entered through tall 
French windows; above the heads of the guests a heavy winding of 
tobacco smoke squirmed like a baldachin. I stood at the bar and 
gazed outward with proprietarial decorum, wrapped in warmth 
and well-being like a quilted sultan. Solely the effect of alcohol, as 
I was quick to recognize; I was safe now, safe for hours, if I used 
a little good judgment; safe in my alcoholic objectivity; I could 
afford to be charming, witty, the equal of any occasion. 

Without doubt, the entrance of Mrs. Rheinklugel was an occa- 
sion, though the exact modifying adjective to go with it escapes me 
at the moment. Let it be enough to say that Mrs. Rheinklugel 
came in. . . . No, damn it, wrong from the start. Mrs. Rheinklugel 
probably never came in in her life, she always came on . . . less like 
an actress coming onstage, I may say, than like a general coming 
onto a parade ground, accompanied by color guard, drums and 
bugles, and assorted aides-de-camp. Farfetched? Not at all. In this 
case, Mesdames Carlow & Prunier fluttered and simpered on either 
side of the General in a manner spectacularly aide-de-campish, two 
bellboys from the Blackstone staff carried the General's handbag 
and tartar sable stole with evident awareness that they were 
flourishing the insignia of rank, and as for the drums and bugles, 

212 



I imagine the press corps can do service here, for the General's 
entrance was signaled by a splendid fanfare of snapping shutters 
and blaring flashbulbs. The General herself was short, broad- 
shouldered, and chesty; she walked like a pit terrier and wore her 
campaign medals — excuse me, her diamond-and-sapphire brooch — 
proudly. I have no doubt she had earned it on many an arduous 
campaign. Once on the parade ground, she halted and surveyed the 
assembled company. Carlow whispered decorously in her ear, 
Prunier motioned the bellboys to stand back. The photographers 
knelt, petitioned, and were granted a frosty smile. Mrs. Rhein- 
klugel had arrived — for the umptieth time. I caught sight of Rollo 
hurrying through the throng to perform the official greeting, and 
with a pleased sense of my own benignity and serenity, I went 
forward, without being sought out, to lend a hand. 

"Mrs. Rheinklugel, permit me to introduce our editor." 

Rollo was at his courtliest, and I duly loaned my hand. 

"So-o-o glad to meet you. I've heard so-o-o-o-o much about you. 
I think it's just wonderful what you are doing with our Pegasus, 
just wonderful. Why, I was . . . ah . . . just saying to — " 

"Yes," the Carlow struck in. "She was just saying on the way up 
how marvelous it is for the city, you know, having such a . . . a . . . 
gallant cultural . . . enterprise . . . yes . . . ah . . ." Obviously, the 
Carlow's job was to bail out the General when the General 
seemed about to founder. I wondered who bailed out the Carlow. 

Naturally, the Prunier. "You see, we all are so appreciative of 
your good work on behalf of ... ah ... on behalf of . . ." 

"Yes. But of course. That's it exactly. Isn't it?" The Carlow 
resumed the burden. 

"Exactly," the General beamed. 

"It's very good of you to come," I said. "We are always grate- 
ful for the support of the — " here I bore down hard " — aware mem- 
bers of the community." As well as I could, I smiled. 

"Well, you know, I've always just loved poetry. . . ." 

"Yes, indeed," interposed the Carlow. "You ought to see the 
books and book of poetry on her . . . ah . . . bookshelves. . . ." 

"Books and books" said the Prunier. 

The General beamed. 

At this point, fortunately, Fillermine appeared. As I've already 
remarked, praise the Lord for the English, they always know what's 

213 



expected of them. Fillermine knew, and dutifully performed. "Mrs. 
Rheinklugel, it is a great pleasure for me to," etc., etc. 

Flashbulbs blared. 

"Mr. Eliot, how marvelous! It's a marvelous thing, really — I'm 
so-o-o-o-o-o glad to — " The General broke down, beaming. 

The Carlow: "It's really such a great honor, you know, for us 
and for...." 

The Prunier: "Terribly flattering, just terribly — why, I'll remem- 
ber this as long as . . ." 

Fillermine: "Very kind of you, I'm sure. But there seems to be 
a case of misidentity. My name is really," etc., etc. 

More flashbulbs. 

"Dear me, Mr. Prufrock, to think you've come all this way — you 
really must come tomorrow for . . ." The General beamed. 

Carlow: "Yes, indeed, for tea, Mr. Prufrock, the day after tomor- 
row ... for tea .. . in the afternoon. . . ?" 

Prunier: "Oh, yes, Mr. Prufrock. Do-o-o-o come. Day after 
tomorrow? Tomorrow is the governor's wife, you see, and we 
couldn't really . . . could we?" 

Fillermine: "No, indeed, but I'm afraid I shall be in San Fran- 
cisco on," etc., etc. 

Flashbulbs right and left. 

"Dear Mr. Sweeney, tell us, have you written another play since 
the... ah..." 

Carlow: "The Peacock Tail? Oh, we enjoyed it so-o-o-o-o much. 
So-o-o-o-o-o amusing. . . ." 

Prunier: "So-o-o-o-o-o profound. . . ." 

Fillermine: "Well, as a matter of fact, you see," etc., etc. 

Minor regrouping here, supervised by Rollo. Then more flash- 
bulbs. But I had reached my limit. "Mrs. Rheinklugel," I said, in 
what I judged were painfully suave tones, "perhaps a little refresh- 
ment?" 

Rollo took it up. "The photographers must be finished now." 

"Well," the General enunciated laboriously, "perhaps . . . just 
. . . a . . . little . . . you . . . ah . . ." 

"I'm sure the bar has some excellent sherry," Rollo said mali- 
ciously. 

"Oh, but I . . . well ... I think . . . perhaps . . . I . . ." 

214 



Carlow: "Yes, it is . . . isn't it? Getting on toward . . ." 

Prunier: "Time for ... ah . . ." 

Rollo braced his shoulders. "Most of us are having cocktails. 
Perhaps a cool drink for a warm day? Something with a touch of 
rum perhaps?" 

General: "Ah, yes, well . . . sometimes I . . . that is . . . I . . ." 

Carlow: "When it comes to cocktails, you know . . . well, one 
mustn't be . . . must one?" 

Prunier: "Indeed, not ... ha, ha? We . . . you see, we . . . 
prefer . . ." 

"Martinis," the General beamed. 

"Of course," Rollo said. "Shall we go this way?" 

"Delighted," said the General. "So-o-o-o-o-o nice to have seen 
you, Mr. Possum, so-o-o-o-o-o nice. Till tomorrow afternoon then?" 

Carlow: "Wonderful, wonderful, Mr. Possum — I wouldn't have 
missed this for worlds, not for worlds! Till day after tomorrow. . . ?" 

Prunier: "I . . . ah . . . oh, yes, Mr. Possum — day after tomor- 
row? At four?" 

When they were out of earshot, I said: "Look here, Clambert, 
I knew it was going to be pretty rough, but I had no idea — " 

He silenced me with a half-raised palm. "No apologies, really. 
There's no need — I'm used to it, God help me. Besides, I've seen 



worse." 



"Worse?" 

"Far worse. There was a South African woman in Florence once 
who told me for a half hour how much she adored my sonnet be- 
ginning, 'Leave me not in the marriage of two minds.' . . . Really, 
this is nothing, nothing at all. Anyway, it's in the good cause. One 
mustn't complain." He smoothed his eyebrow with a delicately 
arched finger. 

"You're an astonishing fellow, Clambert," I said. 

"Nonsense. Nothing of the kind." 

Nevertheless, I detected a tremor in his eyelid as he turned 
away, and I thought to myself that it was the most eloquent gesture 
I had ever seen from a deathly weary man. 



Resumption of atomic testing in the atmosphere. To think — 
to think with minds that by every objective criterion are accounted 

215 



rational — that adding to the forces of destruction will accomplish 
anything but destruction! And now shelters, "fallout shelters," 
shelters for everyone — to protect us in case of a thermonuclear 
war. In case of a thermonuclear war!!! My God, what has hap- 
pened? What is going on out there? Has everyone gone mad? Am I 
the only sane one left in the world, hidden away in these snowy 
woods and hills? "You can save yourself," the radio says. Exactly 
what the pimply boy said who came to my door a week ago and 
pressed a copy of the Watchtower into my hands. Illusions. Saved 
in a world whose very rudiments — earth, air, water — are being 
turned into the food of death? Saved in a black burrow while 
topside every needful and beautiful thing is thrown down, burnt, 
contaminated, mutilated, destroyed? I ask you. 

The beginning of this book was difficult, as I made a great show 
of announcing to you, but what a hollow show it was. Now, now 
the words come hard. I was brave enough then — faced with my 
little anxieties about style and form — but now the words come 
hard. Hard, I tell you — "you," whoever you are, whatever you are, 
if you are. The man who said one can write for art's sake, or for 
the purpose of pleasing oneself or shaping the truth of oneself or 
any of that jazz ... he lived in no such times as these. Now, now 
when you out there are being snatched away from me by this insane 
fury, now when you are virtually gone and I sit here totally alone, 
now the words come hard. 

I hammer them onto the page. One by one. Like spikes. Ham- 
mering up these little words against my sense of nullity. 

Linda does nothing, lost in a dream of nothing. 

I had thought I could keep these notes on the present segre- 
gated from the rest. 

Is my method better than Linda's? I have absolutely no idea. 
I only know I must pursue my reason as she pursues hers. We are 
the two sane ones, that much is clear, but which sanity will prove 
the more effective? I guess the effectiveness of either will be so 
little that it doesn't matter. I simply go on. Putting down these sad 
and funny words. It ought to be easy, really; that September after- 
noon ten years ago was sad enough and funny enough, you might 
think, to call up its own language from the force of its own being. 
But it doesn't. The words come hard. 



216 



"Have you any idea how rotten and lousy a life Rollo leads?" 

I looked across Paula's head toward the gaggle-at-large. In my 
present condition of carefully nurtured interior placidity, I wasn't 
sure I liked the direction the conversation was taking: these fierce 
questions about the private lives of one's friends always lead to 
disturbing commitments. 

"He hasn't got anything/' Paula continued. "Just dreariness." 

"Come now — he enjoys his work, he's got us." 

"You think so? Maneuvering these old biddies all the time?" 
Paula sucked vehemently on her cigarette. "Listen, if he's getting 
anything out of the work it's not what he does, you can be sure of 
that — it's just knowing that possibly it all means something in the 
end. That, plus the chance of associating with you every day." 

I looked doubtful. What else could I do? 

"I agree," she said. "It's nonsense. But you may as well know 
that's the way he feels." She looked away. "He thinks you're a 
genius." 

I shrugged. "So do I." Paula made a gesture of impatience, but 
I went on. "All right, I like Rollo too, I think he's a splendid fel- 
low, and so on and so on. But isn't that just what I said to begin 
with? He's got us. If we've got to be maudlin about this, I'm 
serious, I mean what I'm saying." This wasn't what I wanted to 
tell her: too dangerous; but I couldn't think of another gambit 
quickly enough. I went on: "One of my chief pleasures in life is 
working in the office and being with you two. You're good com- 
pany, everything considered, and it's a pleasant way to work; I'm 
fond of both of you. The point is, if Rollo gets the same pleasure 
out of it, so much the better. I know how it is." 

"But it's so little." 

"You expect too much, Paula. Practically everyone has to settle 
for too little out of life. And Rollo's reached the age when he 
knows it, and if he doesn't accept it, he at least doesn't rebel 
against it foolishly. You know, you can't burn with a fine gemlike 
flame all the time." 

"I never burned in my life and you know it," Paula said. "I 
wouldn't mind burning once in a while, if that's what you mean." 

No, it's too much, I said to myself; time to break away. But I 
couldn't think of a ploy. I smiled, tentatively. She remained 

217 



unsmiling, however, and began speaking before I could attempt an 
excuse to leave. Her thoughts hadn't been moving in the direction 
I feared; her mind was still on Rollo. 

"Whatever he gets out of the work," she said, "it isn't enough. 
Life means more than that — I know it. What does he do at night, 
for God's sake? And he's so old." 

"Rollo? He's not fifty yet." 

"But that's old. Practically ancient." 

"Good Lord, Paula — Rollo's got years ahead of him." 

"What kind of years?" 

"Why, what's the matter with him? He's healthy, isn't he? Full 
of vigor, I'd say." 

"Yes, that's all you think about — work. Of course he's good for 
a lot more years maneuvering the biddies, adding up the accounts. 
But what else?" 

I turned it back to her. "What do you mean?" I said. 

"Well.... "She blushed. 

This time I smiled genuinely. "If it makes you so uncomfortable, 
I asked, "why do you keep talking about it? You've got an 
obsession." 

She looked down. "I guess that's what an obsession is, isn't it?" 
Her tone was rough-edged. "Something that makes you uncom- 
fortable." 

I let that pass, and reverted to Rollo. "Don't you think Rollo's 
sex life is his own affair?" 

"What I think is, you ought to be concerned about your friends' 
lives, and help if you can." 

"Meddlers get into trouble—" 

"I'm not going to meddle" she interrupted. "But sometimes you 
can sort of . . . arrange things so a person can take advantage of 
them if he wants to." 

"There's a word for that," I said. "It's called seduction." 

She blushed again. But she didn't say anything. 

"I see," I said, "I see." I confess I was shocked. But the pathos 
of what she was doing, or trying to do, overcame my surprise. 
"How do you know Rollo isn't perfectly well satisfied already?" 
I asked. "You said you don't know what he does with his nights. 
How do you know he isn't popping out to Cicero or someplace 

218 



like that three or four nights a week and whooping it up with the 
girls? And what the hell do you want me to do anyway?" I pumped 
these questions at her rapidly, almost angrily. 

Paula sighed. "I don't believe it. And neither do you. Does he 
seem like that kind of a person to you?" 

I agreed he didn't. "Still," I said, "I wouldn't be surprised if he 
had something going, something more modest perhaps." 

"I would," Paula replied. "Can't you tell? By the tone of his 
voice, that dryness and misery? By his clothes, so correct and color- 
less? It's gone out of his life, that's what I think — out of his whole 
being. He's forgotten how" She paused. "Not literally, of course," 
she added. 

I jiggled the coins in my pocket. I wondered how much she'd had 
to drink. 

"I know what you're thinking," she went on. "But why do you 
think I brought this up to you? Because you're the one person I 
know who I thought might understand. You're thinking of his 
wife — or rather, you're wondering what I'm thinking about his 
wife. Well, I think that's just not enough. Not any more, anyway. 
Do you know how long she's been gone?" 

"A few years," I said. 

"Seven," she said. "Seven years. Maybe a person can keep it up 
for a while, maybe two or three years, but seven? — it's too long. 
Do you know she hasn't even been able to recognize him for over 
two years?" 

"As bad at that." 

"Yes," she said. "And I think he's just sort of slipped into this 
way of being sort of half-dead — damn it, I know I'm floundering. 
Why don't you help? It's a sort of un-being, isn't it?" 

"A common case. Perhaps I've tried not to see it in Rollo." 

"Well " 

"You want me to be your pimp." I hit her very hard with this. 
The alternative was a complete deterioration. 

Paula bit her lip. 

"What the hell do I know about pimping?" I said. 

"A great deal: you do it every day." 

"What—" 

"Oh, yes. Don't get starchy about it. An editor and a pimp are 

219 



practically the same thing." Paula blushed — the third time. "What 
do you think makes anyone a pimp? The money? I doubt it — not 
often anyway. Pleasure, can't you see? — the pleasure of bringing 
together people who need each other — in your case, the writer 
and the reader." 

"I fail to recognize the cogency of the analogy." 

"Never mind, it's not the point anyway." 

I let my placidity return. "Still," I said, "Rollo's wife is someone. 
Someone very deeply embedded in his life, I imagine. He's a lot 
older than you, remember. You can't truly understand the quality 
of his existence. Neither can I. Neither can anyone. But people — 
some people — can live on memories, you know, on illusions, on 
fictive identifications." 

"I know," she said. "Rollo's just the sort who might do it — in 
his quiet way. I've been thinking, though. There's a kind of . . . 
of relationship, isn't there? — where you are just friends." The 
fourth blush. "No, I mean more than friends, but — well, something 
between being a friend and a ... a wife? At least that's what I 
read in the novels and poems you people are always writing." 

"I suppose so — in certain circumstances." 

"Something like that might work with Rollo," she said simply. 

"All right," I said. I looked at her, at her eyes suddenly very 
soft. She was in love, and again I was surprised. Her hair was 
rumpled, a thin strand fell over her eyes. She had ashes on the 
front of her dress, a smear of lipstick on her teeth. "Go fix yourself 
up a bit," I said. I smiled, and picked the lock of hair off her fore- 
head and placed it among the rest. She smiled too, shyly. I leaned 
down and whispered in her ear: "Tell me now, whom am I really 
pimping for, you or Rollo?" 



The fat young priest was expounding earnestly to a schoolgirl, 
who looked as if she might be a student at a junior college. Proba- 
bly the daughter of one of the older guests. He said: "No, but 
you've got to go beyond that period, the period of the 'Jellyroll' 
record. Russell was great then, no doubt of it, but still working in 
the older vein. He scarcely deviated from the tonic. But so much 
as a year or eighteen months later he has made marked progress, 
very marked progress. And my contention is that he antedated 

220 



many of the harmonic and especially rhythmic innovations of 
Parker and the other habitues of Minton's." 

"Such a hypothesis seems difficult to sustain," the girl replied 
thoughtfully. "When you consider the extent to which Parker, 
Gillespie, Edwards, and the others acted as a group, abetting one 
another's experiments. This climate of experimentalism, it seems 
to me, was the essential ingredient. Pee Wee Russell, after all, was 
working in virtually complete isolation, not even associated with 
the main earlier developments of Lester Young and Roy Eldridge." 

The priest's forehead was runneled with sweat. "In the first 
place," he said, "you neglect the importance of the intuitive leap 
as an element in creative development. Russell was capable of it. 
He was — and is — one of the three or four white geniuses. He could 
do in isolation what a lesser artist could do only as a member of a 
coterie. But in the second place, do you imagine that Russell was 
unaware of developments in the Basie-Ellington orbit? True, he was 
working primarily at the other end of town; but I think there is 
good evidence that, first, he didn't care for his location and 
wouldn't have chosen it if he had been permitted a free hand, and, 
second, he was extremely interested in the harmonic devices used 
by the others and adapted some of them, particularly Eldridge's, to 
his own style." 

"I don't deny the truth of what you say," the girl responded, 
frowning in concentration. "But I still believe you would be strain- 
ing a point if you refused to acknowledge the genuinely revolu- 
tionary nature of the events which occurred after Parker came to 
New York. The extraordinary efflorescence in the middle of the 
decade must have sprung from a more immediate source than these 
scattered impulses from the early years. At best Russell was a pre- 
cursor, not himself the innovator." 

"He could scarcely be an innovator in the sense you mean when 
no one was willing to pay attention to what he was doing," the 
priest said, and then turned to me, speaking with a note of appeal 
in his voice. "Don't you agree?" 

"Oh, I'm with you all the way," I said. "Definitely. But I didn't 
catch your reference to that record you mentioned earlier, the 
'Jellyroll' record? Can you give me the full title?" 

* * * 

221 



Trays of assorted good things — miniature sandwiches, sausages 
spiked on toothpicks, pdte and melba toast — were being carried 
among the guests by Negro waitresses, all of whom seemed too 
small to be entrusted with such burdens. One, particularly slight, 
a beige girl with maroon hair and freckles on her nose, lifted her 
tray for my inspection. 

"A tempting array," I said. "What do you recommend?" 

"Oh, they're all very good, sir." 

"You think the customer should make his own choice?" 

"Yes, sir. We put the carte blanche before the hors d'ceuvres." 

"What?" I said. 



Charley stood, looking downcast, at one side of the main door. 
He seemed poised in a peculiarly dryadic stance, as if he were 
about to vanish among the folds of drapery which, in design and 
color, were a somber foliomort. 

"Have you been here long?" I asked, as I came up. 

"No," he said. "Five minutes, I guess." 

"Where's Alex?" 

"I don't know," he answered, shifting his pose. "What a jam! 
Do you have to have so many people?" 

"Afraid so," I replied. "Good for the cause. See here, Charley, 
don't be evasive — do you mean Alex didn't show up for the natural- 
ization proceedings?" 

"No." 

"Then what—" 

"I mean yes, she didn't show up." 

"Oh," I said. "Charley, that's terrible. What happened? Have 
you heard from her?" 

"No. She was having lunch with a friend; she told me she might 
be late." He straightened his cuff. "It's all right, she didn't really 
take much interest in this citizenship thing anyway." He straight- 
ened his other cuff. "Like you," he added. 

"Oh, well, after all — you can't get very worked up about some- 
thing you're born with. At any rate, most of us can't. Come on, 
let's have a drink." 

We walked across to the bar, edging Indian fashion among the 
knots of guests. By this time, the party was in full swing. "Excuse 

222 



me," Charley said to a blowzy socialite who had stepped backward 
just in time to transfix his instep with her stiletto-shaped heel. 
"Think nothing of it, honey/' she said. And she kissed him. At 
the bar Charley wiped off the lipstick with a balled handkerchief 
dredged from his pocket, and ordered a Dubonnet. The bartender 
was pouring a shakerful of Martinis into iced cocktail glasses set 
out on an aluminum tray. "Yes, sir," he said, and began searching 
among the bottles swimming in a tub of half-melted ice behind 
him on the floor. He came up with the Dubonnet, poured out a 
glassful of the lovely solferino with evident satisfaction, and asked, 
"Lemon?" Charley said, "Please." As the bartender twisted the 
peel and handed the glass to Charley, he said, "Congratulations, 
sir." "What for?" Charley asked. The bartender picked up his 
pitcher of Martinis and resumed pouring. "You're the only sensi- 
ble man in the house," he said. 

I chose one of the newly filled Martinis and turned to Charley. 
"You know perfectly well, Charley, even if we don't take citizen- 
ship seriously ourselves, we're interested in your naturalization." I 
sipped the Martini, warming the cold gin on my tongue. "If only 
because you're interested," I continued. "I'm astonished Alex 
didn't show up. Do you suppose anything has happened to her?" 

"What could happen to her?" 

"I don't know." 

"If you mean an accident," Charley said, "I'm not worried. I 
had to learn that long ago. She's often late; and sometimes it 
seems as if she chooses the worst times to be the latest." 

"Characteristic of the species." 

Charley swirled his glass and watched the lemon peel turn 
slowly in the wine. 

"How did it go?" I asked. 

"Simple." 

"What did the judge ask you?" 

"He asked me what was the procedure for ratifying an amend- 
ment to the Constitution." 

"That's all?" 

"Yes." 

"Bit of a letdown " 

Charley smiled crookedly. I thought of the months of study, the 
questions he had asked me, the anxieties he had endured. 

223 



"Well," I said, "three cheers anyway. And congratulations. You 
know, I think you really are the most sensible man in the house, 
after all." I raised my glass. 

"Thanks," Charley said. "I'm glad it's over." He sighed. "It 
doesn't seem to mean so much right now. But I guess that's just 
the letdown, isn't it? Later on, tomorrow, it'll be more like what 
I thought " 

"Sure," I said. "That's the way it is." 

Charley looked around the room. "There's the captain," he 
said. "I'll go tell him." 

"Yes, of course. He should have been the first to know." 

When he had taken two steps, Charley turned. "Don't worry 
about Alex," he said. "She'll turn up." 



The General: "My dears, isn't it too marvelous — all this ... all 
this for the sake of culture?" 

The Carlow: "But really, you know . . . well, you know . . . 
without you — " 

The Prunier: "Yes, indeed, my dear. Yes, indeed. Without you 
. . . well, after all, without you it wouldn't be . . ." 

The General (beaming) : "Come now, my dears, we mustn't be 
too . . . must we? It's all for the . . . ah . . . the poets, you know!" 



"How's it going?" I asked. 

"All right, I think," Rollo said. "Everyone seems pleased. No 
fights so far. Of course, you never can tell about Rheinklugel, you 
never can tell what's going on in her brain — if she's got a brain." 

"Yes, I must say she's a tough case. I hadn't expected much. But 
that — that's about the bottom of the barrel, isn't it?" 

"Depends. In some respects it's the nearest to the top we've 
ever been. She's got the money, don't forget — stacks of it. She 
could bail out Pegasus for the next decade out of the money she 
spends for . . . for storing her furs, par example" 

"I'm sure." I proffered a cigarette and was tendered a light. 
"Let's hope it works then. At least old Clambert came through in 
good style." 

224 



"Like a trouper," Rollo said. 

"He's really a considerable asset, old Clambert." 

"No one else could have got the Rheinklugel to attend — I mean 
for the sake of the photographs. You can thank him for that." 

"Really, Rollo, in that case I don't see what we have to worry 
about. Obviously she was pleased. Tickled pink, I'd say — even if 
she actually doesn't know who he is. The party's a rousing success." 

"Let's hope so. We'll see later. Everything's gone smoothly so 
far, at any rate. Thanks to Paula — she's done a good deal more 
than her share, you realize." 

"And I've done less than mine." 

"I didn't say that." 

"True, nevertheless." 

"You're being self-pitying," Rollo said. "Your job is to hold up 
the editorial end — a damn difficult job. No one's ever done it 
better, that's what I think. And the only reason the rest of us are 
here at all is to keep things going so you can — " 

"Okay, Rollo, lay off — I'll shut up." I blew cigarette smoke in 
the direction of the other end of the room. "There's Paula now, 
making up to the fat priest. Doing her bit, all right. I must say 
she looks okay, don't you agree?" 

"I guess so. What do you mean?" 

"I mean when she fixes herself up a little she's actually rather 
inviting looking. Bedworthy, in a wholesome way." 

"You think so?" Rollo watched Paula smile at something the fat 
priest had said. "Wholesome, yes — I've always thought that. I 
expect she might be receptive, though, if you approached her with 
. . ." He waved his hand vaguely. 

"No thanks," I said. "I'm otherwise occupied. I was thinking of 
you." 

"Me?" 

"Why not?" I dropped my cigarette ash into an empty Martini 
glass that was standing on a marble table, on a copy of Filler- 
mine's Prologues and Passpennies. "You two spend a lot of time 
together. Most people probably already think you're — " 

"Preposterous!" 

"No, I'm not exaggerating. Besides, nobody would be anything 
but pleased, especially Paula. I repeat: why not?" 

225 



"I'm old and tired and disgusted and empty and forlorn and 
puritanical and spiritually impoverished and — " 

"Yes, and Paula is young and tired and disgusted and empty and 
forlorn and so on and so on. Rollo, there isn't anyone alive in this 
city right now, anyone with an ounce of sense, who doesn't feel the 
same way for one reason or another. Or probably in any other city, 
for that matter. It's the times, Rollo — and for God's sake, don't 
let me get off on that. But seriously, you know as well as I do the 
malaise isn't essentially personal; it's epidemic. The point is there's 
a certain periodicity to one's susceptibility. And the further point 
is we still have to live — " 

"Why?" 

"You mean that." 

"Of course." 

"No one can answer that question for another person, Rollo. 
You fight it out alone, don't ask me how. Obviously, I was wrong; 
you don't have to live. Somebody said the question of suicide is 
the only topic left for serious inquiry. I agree; we should face it 
unashamedly. However, one point remains where we have no free- 
dom of choice, if that's any comfort. If we live, then we have to be 
human beings, we can't escape it; and that's what I meant to say in 
the first place, I guess. We have to be what we are, the sum of 
what we are. Which means the sum of what everyone else is or 
ever has been. You may say this is meaningless, too big a state- 
ment to be useful; but I disagree. What do you think Paula does 
at night?" I smiled inwardly at myself for adopting Paula's tactic. 
"You can tell me she sits at home and reads and mends her stock- 
ings, but you damn well know what the truth is — she sits at home 
and suffers. No less than that. The most ordinary thing in the 
world. But another ordinary thing is the termination of suffering, 
or at least its interruption, its temporary suspension. That happens 
every day too. The cyclical movement is a human mechanism — 
inescapable. All you have to do is let it happen." 

Rollo dropped his cigarette butt into the Martini glass, where 
it hissed gloomily. "You should never try to talk rationally," he 
said, "especially when you've been drinking. It doesn't suit you. 
However, there's a speck of meaning in your flummery." He turned 
to look again toward Paula, who was still listening to the fat priest. 

226 



"I couldn't go it alone, not for a whole evening — I've pretty well 
lost my hand for this sort of thing. What's the program tonight?" 

'We'll be at Christy's on 55th Street after dinner," I said. 

He lit another cigarette. "I guess the first thing to do is rescue 
her from the Church. 



Alex, Alex! 

Did you live? Were you real? 

I didn't know. Never before had I been so touched, shaken, by 
the emotional cogency of the old philosophies. Good Dr. Berke- 
ley, I palpitate in the apprehension of your living heart: what are 
the structures of reality? Out of sight, out of mind — so people say. 
We few, the unnerved, say more: out of mind, out of the world. 
It seemed to me, as I wandered from group to group that Septem- 
ber afternoon, that the alive warmth of Alex still clung to my body, 
but then it seemed to me that this was illusory, it seemed to me — a 
spasm of possibility — that there had never been such a woman, 
but that I had invented her. Seemed, seemed, seemed — my skull 
echoed. But what is? Do I love? Hate? Feel anything at all? But 
of course, Charley had been speaking of her only a moment ago. . . . 
Was Charley real? I spun and stumbled. There, at the far end of 
the room, still talking to Cienkiewycz. Thank God. But the three 
tall French windows wavered in the intense saffron light like three 
crones hobbling together. H6, he, h6, they snickered, winking 
at me. 

A moment's sensation, no more. Then the alcohol took prece- 
dence again. With nonchalance, I observed the stability of the 
room; the din of the party in my ears; the world resuming its 
customary implacable objectivity. I noted, calmly, that reality was 
in no danger: it was I, driven by fear and longing, I, the indis- 
pensable nub of consciousness, that had momentarily disintegrated. 

That such a thing should happen to a man! Ah, Alex. 



Pocksman dancing around Fillermine like a child around a 
Christmas tree. When I came up, he began dancing around me 
too. Two Christmas trees: the thought occurred to me that it was 

227 



well past Christmas Eve, more like Twelfth-night — we were dry, 
our lights were burnt out, and we'd soon be taken down. 

"Ah," Pocksman said, "glad to [puff, puff] see you. I was just 
telling Fillermine here about this article I read by Robbe-Grillet 
— you know his work, of course? — in . . . ah . . . the Nouvelle Revue 
Frangaise, in which [puff] he holds that the chief romantic ... ah 
. . . fallacy is the humanization or . . . ah . . . anthropomorphosis 
of external [puff, puff, puff] things? Ah, you will say, the old 
pathetic [puff] fallacy, Ruskin a la gauloise. Yes, but . . . ah . . . 
with this [puff, puff] difference? Robbe-Grillet is interested pri- 
marily in . . . ah . . . isolating the explicitly or should I say implicitly 
— ha, ha! — human element ... ah ... as opposed to the alien 
unknowableness of [puff, puff, puff] things? And you see, of course, 
how interesting it all ... ah .. . is — and how it fits in with my 
own concepts of the dramatic symbology of consciousness, what 
I was telling you [puff, puff, puff] about? Because, you see, if the 
symbolic force is dissipated into objects unintegrated in the precise 
drama of withinness . . . ah . . . well, you see what I mean. . . . 
Fillermine says it's very [puff, puff, puff, puff, puff] interesting?'' 

"Yes, indeed," Fillermine said. "Although I've always tended to 
think that the — num, num— procedural theories of writers, as dis- 
tinguished, you see, from the analytical theories of critics, are sig- 
nificant chiefly as rationales for the creative act and have little 
objectivity validity in themselves, if indeed anything does." 

"Oh." Pocksman slumped visibly. But then brightened up again. 
"Of course, I see what you mean, the [puff] poem is the ... ah .. . 
main thing, after all, isn't [puff, puff, puff] it? Now at the moment 
I happen to be working on a longish . . . ah . . . dramatic monologue 
tentatively entitled 'The Defense of Sheba,' which embodies," 
etc., etc., etc. 



I engaged the Prunier, incautiously, in conversation. She was 
pretty well crocked. 

"Tell me, Mrs. Prunier," I suggested, "have you enjoyed a 
pleasant summer?" 

"Oh, yes . . . yes, indeed. Marvelous, just marvelous." 

"Really? Rare these days to hear anyone confess an honest 
enjoyment." 

228 



"Yes, isn't it? Ah. . . ." 

I risked another question. "Were you in the country?" 

"Ah, well, you see, ah, not really, that is, only a few weeks." 
She gulped at her Martini. "Yes, only a few weeks, you see. Mostly 
we were in Madrid. Yes, and Barcelona." 

"I see. You spent the summer in Spain?" 

"Oh, yes. Of course. That is, we always do, you know . . . 
invarial — inveeri — in-VARE-ably." 

"Indeed? You must be deeply attached to the — " 

"We go for the fights." 

"The fights?" I inhaled deeply. 

"Oh, yes . . . in Barcelona and Madrid, you know. We always 
go. Ah, are you an — ah — afficionado?" 

"I'm afraid not, Mrs. Prunier. I've never yielded to the spell. 
Perhaps you can tell me the source of the enchantment?" 

"The source of the . . . ah? . . . yes, I see. Well, you know— have 
you read a writer named Hemingway?" 

"Some time ago." 

"Yes, he has rather gone out of style, hasn't he? Yes. Well, he 
says — by the way, have you ever . . . ah . . . met him?" 

"No. No, I haven't." 

"I see. Well, you know what he says about the fights, they're 
so . . ." 

"Graceful?" 

"Yes. Yes, that's it exactly — graceful. And . . ." 

"Exciting?" 

"Yes. Oh my, yes, indeed, very exciting — why when they put 
the . . ." She staggered, and braced herself briefly with her hand 
against my chest. "When they put the — the estoque in . . ." 

"Yes." 

"So exciting, so-o-o-o-o-o exciting." 

"I have no doubt." 

"My heart just goes . . . my heart just goes ... ah, you know?" 
She lowered her voice. "I like it best when they bleed a lot." 

"Who?" 

"Well, the — no, no, you're joking, I can tell, I can tell — you're 
pulling my . . . ah . . . Yes, the bulls. Of course, the bulls. Never 
the matador — oh no, they never bleed. Cover 'em up quickly, get 
'em out, yes, sir — no blood. But the bulls ... oh my. Black blood, 

229 



you know? — like . . . ah, er . . . mu&V She touched my forearm 
confidentially. "You know? No? Like mud, like earth, that's what 
it is, all running down, but so strong and thick. And the smell, 
you know? No? . . . Oh my." 

She was rubbing my arm softly. I noticed that the skin which 
folded inside her collarbone somewhat resembled the pleats of an 
old leather valise. 

"Oh, the brave bulls. Oh, the brave bulls. Bleeding, bleeding, 
you have no idea . . . so-o-o-o-o-o exciting. You have no idea. . . . 
Have you any idea, Mr. . . . er . . . Mr. ... er ... no, you have no 
idea. And the smell — like . . . ah . . . like a warm baked potato 

. . . YES, BY GOD, A WARM BAKED POTATO . . . oh my. . . ." 

"Mrs. Prunier, I say, Mrs. Prunier, I wonder if you'd mind — 
Mrs. Prunier, I wonder if you'd mind — you're spilling your Martini 
down my shirt, oh, damn and blast and a bloody shaft in the — 
excuse me, Mrs. Prunier, I see a gentleman at the bar with whom I 
must have a word." 

She nodded slowly. "And then, of course, and then ... in Madrid 
... we shook hands with the Generalissimo, yes . . . such a dear 
man. We shook hands with the Generalissimo after the fights . . . 
oh my. . . ." 



Alex came in at about five-thirty, in company with a tall, dark, 
slender, scholarly-looking apparition. 

Cool this time, I decided. No frenzies. I pretended not to 
notice. Alex and her friend sought out Charley first — near the 
windows — and then all three joined me at the bar. Introductions 
were performed; the apparition's name, it turned out, was Rignum 
Bruno — Rig, for short. Alex and Charley were holding hands. 

"Isn't it wonderful about Charley's citizenship?" Alex said. "I'm 
so upset, not making it on time. Rig and I lost all track of the 
clock." 

Charley smiled shyly. 

"Calls for a drink anyway," I said. "If you're not loaded already." 

"He's trying to be funny," Alex said to Bruno. "If anyone's 
loaded around here, we know who." She shrugged and smiled. 

"We certainly should toast our new compatriot," Bruno said. 
His voice was astonishingly deep and rich. 

230 



"Champagne," Alex said. "Mumm's, '36, at least." 

"None available," I said. 

Bruno looked grave. "Why not let me call down to the public 
bar for a bottle?" he asked. 

"No, no," Charley said quickly. "Let's not do that — it wouldn't 
be polite, would it? Having champagne, I mean, all by ourselves 
in the middle of the party." 

"I don't think anybody would mind, would they?" Bruno asked. 

I didn't like Bruno. "It might be frowned on," I said. 

"Hell, Rig, give it up," Alex said, "before I die of thirst." She 
took a Martini from a tray on the bar. "Who likes champagne 
anyway?" she said, smiling. 

Bruno took a Martini, too. Charley asked for another Dubonnet 
and the bartender, saying, "Yes, sir," with a tone all of us recog- 
nized as conveying friendliness beyond the call of duty, poured it 
out. I hesitated, thinking perhaps I ought to change my drink as 
an inward gesture of anti-Brunoism, but then took another Martini 
anyway. 

"Who'll make the toast?" Alex said. 

"I think you should," Bruno said. 

"Oh, no," Alex demurred. "I wouldn't know how." 

I said: "Why not? Perhaps the female should speak for us all.'' 

"I think so too," Charley said. His voice seemed to float gently 
on the hubbub from the rest of the party. 

This is the only time I can recall Alex disconcerted. She turned 
and placed her handbag on the bar, and took longer than necessary 
to stub out her cigarette in an overloaded ashtray. When she turned 
back to face us, she held her glass stiffly before her, and spoke 
with uncertain solemnity: "To a new American, who has been 
long in our hearts and is now in our country, may he always be 
prosperous and happy and . . . and . . . true!" 

We raised our glasses. But before we could drink, the bartender 
said, "May I join in?" Charley nodded and smiled. Quickly the 
bartender poured some Dubonnet into a shot glass, and we all— all 
except Charley — put our glasses to our lips and drank. 

"Thank you very much," Charley said. 



231 



The bathetic qualities of this scene, including the awkward 
toast spoken by Alex, may seem to you egregious and worthy of 
concealment; I dare say they do. But I have reported the inter- 
change faithfully, without expurgation, because in my remembrance 
a vestige of the occasion's warmth and feeling still lingers. The 
words uttered by Alex, Bruno, and me cannot convey this to you, 
of course. Neither could any words that I might make up now, 
artfully tinted and parceled out to the speakers retrospectively. All 
I can do is assert — as I do— on the simple authority of a partici- 
pant, that the feeling was there; in all of us, I think, even Bruno. 
A complex emotion, since each of the three of us — Alex, Bruno, 
and I — was hiding something, a guilt in our breasts as real as a 
tumor; yet the warmth of our feeling for Charley and the simple, 
childlike evocations of the event overrode, for the moment, our 
tensions. Put it down to the booze if you like. But consider also 
the possibility that in this complex machine of spinning hates and 
loves, this four-personed mechanism, the directive force was Char- 
ley. Was it likely that he could dominate and subdue our loves 
and hates by the unanswerable appeal of his simplicity and good- 
ness? I remember him standing there — a little stooped, his blond 
hair ruffled — and it seems to me that this was precisely the case. 



Mrs. Rheinklugel, I saw, was turning aside from a group near the 
doorway to say something to the young girl who had been discuss- 
ing jazz with the fat priest. She (Mrs. Rheinklugel) smiled 
vacantly. In the center of the room Paula was whispering to one 
of the waitresses. To the left and at the end, under one of the high 
windows, Alex and Bruno were now standing with their shoulders 
touching as they looked at something in a magazine Alex had just 
taken from the window seat. I felt a stomach twinge, and for a 
moment the noise of the crowd seemed unbearable, like a sudden 
burst of pigeons through a narrow street. 



Later I found myself caught up with Bruno in one of the party's 
circulating eddies. For a hideous moment we turned round and 
round tete-a-tete. His black hair was thin, gone altogether in front. 

232 



My eyes fixed on the alarmingly deep depression between the 
frontal bones — called, I believe, the metopion. 

"Very pleasant to meet you, Mr. Bruno," I snarled. "Do you 
live in town?" 

He licked his lips. "No. Oh, no. Out in the Hinsdale section." 

"Ah, the real country," I growled. 

"We like to think we avoid some of the city's . . . entangle- 
ments," he sobbed juicily. 

"Your business is in Hinsdale too?" I snapped out. 

"Oh, yes," he bawled. 

"What ... er ... is your line of — " 

"I breed horses," he gasped. "Racehorses." 

"Fascinating occupation," I thundered. 

"Really more of a hobby, you know," he muttered. 

I blasted at him, "I see — a gentleman farmer?" 

"You might say," he coughed balefully. 

"Fascinating, fascinating," I howled, and leaned into the scorch- 
ing wind. 

"You must come out sometime and let me take you on . . ." 

But his words were swept away in a blast of hellfire, and we 
lurched apart. 



It was some time before I could capture Alex, bind her, so to 
speak, and lead her — trailing smiles like bread crumbs — to the dark 
end of the bar. 

"That's your date?" I eructed. "Humbuggary!" 

"None of that," she said. 

"For God's sake," I implored, "why do you do it?" 

"Why not? I like him—" 

"And he's rich." 

"Moderately. You think that's the key to—" 

"To you, yes." 

"Sweet boy. Such a dear." She smiled, then frowned. "Give me 
a cigarette, will you?" We lighted cigarettes, and she continued, 
her tone dry and earnest. "You've got to be angry, I suppose. I 
despise it, but — you can't say I'm not a realist. Not in these matters; 
not at this stage. All right then, go ahead and be angry, be insane, 

233 



be a proprietary male. But don't expect me to pay much attention." 

'To whom should you pay attention if not to me?" 

"You see? — that's just the tone I was talking about. If it satisfies 
you, go ahead — perhaps you need it. But does it serve any purpose?" 

"My purpose," I said coldly, "is simply to elicit one plain fact. 
Why — why the double— triple — cross?" 

"That's exactly the term you'd use, isn't it? How do you know 
it isn't a quadruple cross, or a quintuple?" 

"My God, I don't." 

"And I don't accept your imputation!" 

"Imputation, hell — it's a fact. It's as plain as the — " 

"No. Not at all. Only if you apply your terms, your rotten 
criteria. I don't apply them." She puffed seriously on her cigarette. 
"Look, you know I'm no — what do you call them? — moralist? I 
don't give a damn for that. You want to know why? Because life is 
too short, life is too goddamned short. That's all I know, or care 
about. Maybe it seems simpleminded to you — " 

"It does." 

"All right, write a book about it. But while you're at it, tell me 
this: we've had a good time, haven't we?" 

"God, yes — glorious. What do you think upsets me so much?" 

"You mean you're upset because you had a good time? That's 
silly. You're silly. Love is a good time, fundamentally, and if it 
isn't a good time, it's not worth bothering about. And you're mak- 
ing a mess of it." 

I caught myself shrugging my shoulders, as if to ask some un- 
known kibitzer what you could do with such a woman. "And I 
suppose you think we should go on as if nothing were changed, 
I suppose you think we should go on having a good time when we 
know perfectly well you're . . . you're . . . cultivating that horse 
breeder." 

"Anybody wants variety in his garden — no, I don't mean that. 
At least not the way is sounds." 

"Variety! My God—" 

"No. Wait a minute. Do you believe in different kinds of love? 
Just like different kinds of life? The way you live part of your life 
at the office, part at home, part somewhere else?" 

"Possibly, but—" 

234 



"Then why can't there be many kinds? An almost infinite num- 
ber of kinds?" 

"But it's customary to limit one's investigations of them to one 
partner. One at a time anyway." 

"Customary to whom? Where? Why? You're being sentimental. 
And very old-fashioned." 

"I'm being—" 

"One person can write several kinds of poetry, isn't that so? But 
how much variety would you have if you never read any books 
except those by a single poet?" 

"This is absurd. What has poetry got to do with it?" 

"I don't know. What I'm saying is that life is so goddamned 
short. Can't you understand? You'll be sorry someday — you're 
getting older every hour." 

I almost shrugged again. "At least I'll have the satisfaction of 
knowing I haven't stuck a knife in anyone." 

"What have I done to you — aside from giving you an oppor- 
tunity to love and make love and be a better person for it?" 

It was useless. I saw with sudden insight that the whole course 
of my feeling was futile — completely without hope. The universe 
at large, reality itself, was in opposition to my smallest needs, and 
nothing I could do would make any difference at all. My anger 
subsided into sorrow; I was nearly crying. "Alex," I said, "you've 
spoiled it all — don't ask me to analyze it, I can't. It's over; all done; 
that's as much as I know." 

She put her hand on my arm. "No. Don't you see? It needn't be." 

"Christ, Alex, have you any idea what you're saying, how mon- 
strous it is?" 

"Was it monstrous with Charley, too? What about him? What 
about when you were worrying about his gun?" 

"I know. That was foolishness. I should have known better — at 
least I should have known Charley better." 

"I wouldn't be sure . . ." 

"What do you mean?" 

"He knows." 

"Knows what? About us?" The banality of my question struck 
me; then the banality of the whole episode, from that hot day in 
August at Lake Jones until this moment in September at the Black- 

235 



stone Hotel. But my sense of melancholy could not yet give in to 
my sense of the absurd. 

"Yes, about us." 

"Who told him? Cienkiewycz?" 

"The captain? No, how could he know? Some of the kids in the 
building told him." 

"The little bastards." I staggered a bit. "Alex, what's going to 
happen?" 

"Nothing, Poppy. Don't you see? — we're not the sort of people 
who do things, we're really not people who ever take action at all 
if we can avoid it." Her hand was still on my arm, and she pressed 
gently with her fingers. "Don't worry. Not now. We can't decide 
anything until later anyway." She opened her handbag and looked 
at herself in a mirror that was set in the back of the cover. "We can 
meet tonight if you like." 

"Good Lord, no. I couldn't." 

She looked at me, moving her eyes but not her head. 

"How could you get away from Charley — tonight of all nights?" 
I said. 

"It could be managed." 

"No," I said. 

She closed her handbag and walked away, brushing the back of 
my hand with her own as she went. 



Ten minutes later I learned that Bruno was a eunuch. My first 
thought was that my brain had been put out of commission; it 
couldn't absorb so much in such a short time; it had gone dead. 
Someone at the far end of the room laughed, and the laughter 
tinkled in a high corner of the ceiling. My second thought was: 
why in hell couldn't Alex have said so? Actually, the one who told 
me was Rollo. A case of disability incurred in the war, he said. 

"I find it hard to believe" — this was all I could manage by way of 
response. 

Rollo sipped an obviously warm Martini that he had been nurs- 
ing. "Why?" he asked. "It must have been a common enough type 
of casualty. Probably there are more of them around than we 
realize." I remembered that Rollo didn't know what I knew — or 
thought I knew — about Alex and Bruno, and hence couldn't share 

236 



my bewilderment. I let him continue talking. "Think of the danger 
from land mines and booby-traps," he said. "Very widely used in 
Europe. No doubt thousands were injured in the same way. . . ." 

I mustered a semblance of aplomb. "I suppose so," I said. "Hide- 
ous business." 

"Makes you shiver," Rollo said. 

"But how do you know?" I asked. "He a friend of yours?" 

"I've met him once or twice. But he makes no bones of it . . . 
er . . . I mean he doesn't hide it — he even wrote a little book 
about it, published it himself and sent it around to friends. There's 
a copy in the office somewhere. Sort of little paragraphs; prose- 
poems I guess is what you call them — the sort of thing done by 
Fiona MacLeod, if you remember her . . . er . . . him. . . ." 

"Yes, yes, I know what you mean," I said. "Curious, though. . . ." 

"Why? What do you mean?" 

My aplomb was slipping, I saw. I faked an answer. "Well, he 
doesn't look it, does he? Appears virile enough, in a slimy sort of 
way. You might think he'd be fat or have a squeaky voice or some- 
thing like that." 

Almost as in a dream I knew what Rollo was going to say. "No, 
that's not how it works apparently. Provided you've already ac- 
quired the secondary sexual characteristics at the time emasculation 
occurs, I guess your appearance doesn't change much." 

"Apparently not," I agreed. 

"Makes you uncomfortable though, doesn't it? Wouldn't care to 
spend much time in his company." 

"Neither would I. A case of autosuggestion in reverse, perhaps." 

"In extremis, I'd say." 

"Wonder why Alex bothers with him. . . ." 

Rollo said he had no idea, and we were each carried away in 
separate vortices — the party's indeterrable momentum. 



I was eager to get to Alex again, of course, and throw this new 
perplexity at her — the incongruities between my conversation with 
her and my conversation with Rollo, the disparity between Bruno's 
now known disqualifications (for Rollo's information was trust- 
worthy, I felt) and her evident involvement with the man; an 
involvement which, moreover, as anyone could see who took the 

237 



trouble to look at them, was expressible in the lover's ordinary 
sensuous terms of gesture, glance, and touch. It was damned dis- 
quieting, as you can imagine. As I anticipated my talk with Alex, 
my spirits rose and my enthusiasm returned: I couldn't take the 
rivalry of a eunuch as a serious threat. Her motives were obscure, 
of course, but whatever they were, I felt now that Alex was simply 
putting me through some kind of trial by torture. An old trick, 
really. Well known female perversity. I was certain that when I 
confronted her with what I knew, she would laugh, confess, and 
take credit for having exposed my gullibility; and in my certainty 
I put out of my mind the knowledge, which at another time would 
have been my first thought, that this sort of thing simply wasn't 
Alex's way. . . . Owing to the party's demands and limits, however, 
I didn't find another chance to speak to her alone that afternoon. 



"Tell me, who is the blonde, the — what-do-you-call-them — sex- 
pot?" Fillermine had drawn me aside to ask his question. "Over 
there." He indicated direction with an eyebrow. 

I looked across the room. Of course it was Alex: a lambent 
head and a gray-blue cocktail dress of raw silk glimmering through 
the haze. "Name of Alex Dupont," I said. "Friend of mine." 

"I say, you're not offended, I hope?" 

"Not at all. Sexpot is the precisely accurate term." 

"Indeed," he murmured. "Appearances are sometimes deceiving." 

"Those who dress the part won't play it when the chips are 
down?" 

"Exactly. Maskers, I find, are seldom doers — when, as you say, 
the chips are down." 

"In this case, however," I said, "the appearance is a declaration 
of . . . well, she's safely married at all events." 

"A pity." 

"Many regard it so." 

"I have no doubt." Fillermine smoothed his eyebrow. "Still, I'd 
be glad to make her acquaintance." 

I examined the alternatives: to perform the introduction in the 
hope that Alex would snub him and then give me a chance to talk 
to her alone, or to forestall the introduction on the grounds that 

238 



there were enough cooks stirring this pot already; in my momen- 
tary exuberance, I judged for the former. 

"Come on," I said. "Fll introduce you." 

When we arrived, Alex was sitting next to an elder and minor 
female poet — Leyden Starr — on the wicker settee; they were dis- 
cussing a recipe for pdte de foie canard au Canadien, and Miss Starr 
was embroidering a design of colored threads on what looked like 
a piece of old burlap. She was elaborately lipsticked and kohled, 
stained with granular pigments on her cheekbones, and smelled as 
if she had sprinkled herself with ground cloves. Her split Chinese 
dress exposed a sinewy thigh. Charley was standing at the other 
end of the settee, his back turned to Alex and Miss Starr, listening 
to Pocksman and the fat priest. As Fillermine and I approached, I 
heard the words "but Robbe-Grillet definitely says that the de- 
natured universe is a cosmological necessity in his program of," 
etc., etc. 

Mr. Fillermine, Mrs. Dupont; Mr. Fillermine, Miss Starr; how- 
do-you-do; very-pleased; charmed; etc., etc., etc. 

"There is a belief among central European dressmakers," Filler- 
mine essayed, looking at Miss Starr's needlework with a keen eye, 
"that when a seamstress pricks her finger with a needle it foretells 
great pleasure for the person who will eventually wear the garment 
upon which she is working at the moment." 

"How interesting!" Miss Starr said. "How ever do you suppose 
such a superstition got started?" 

Alex said nothing. 

"A curious belief, as you say," Fillermine agreed. "You might 
think the association would be, in the normal course of things, 
just the reverse." 

"Of course!" Miss Starr exclaimed. "The drawing of blood should 
be an evil omen." 

Alex said nothing. 

"It may be," Fillermine went on, "that this is a case of mytho- 
logical inversion owing to Christian influence." 

"How exciting!" Miss Starr applauded. "But what do you mean?" 

Alex said nothing. 

"One can see a glimmer," Fillermine ventured, "of some such 
origin as the Arachne legend. . . ." 

239 



"How clever!" Miss Starr interrupted. 

Alex said nothing. 

"And then, you see, as the momentum of Christianity forced 
pagan elements underground, and then permitted them to re- 
emerge in the form of folk culture — " 

"Yes, yes!" Miss Starr interjected. 

Alex said nothing. 

"Why, we know that in such cases meanings were often in- 
verted," Fillermine continued doggedly. 

"I'd never have thought of it!" Miss Starr declared. 

Alex said nothing. 

"But really, it's terribly unimportant, isn't it? So tedious and 
pedantic. You must think poets are dull fellows, Mrs. Dupont." 

"Not pedantic at all, Mr. Fillermine!" Miss Starr said angrily. 
"Why, you could make a poem out of it!" 

Alex said nothing. 

"I'm afraid I write very little nowadays," Fillermine said mod- 
estly. "Are you connected with Pegasus, Mrs. Dupont?" 

"I too!" Miss Starr sighed. "One does lose one's creative force, 
doesn't one?" 

Alex said nothing. 

"I wouldn't say that precisely," Fillermine objected. 

"Oh, no, of course not!" Miss Starr trilled. "But there are so 
many other things to do these days, aren't there?" 

Alex said nothing. 

"Indeed," Fillermine said ruefully. "So many other things to do." 

"Still, a poet of your extraordinary gifts never gives up!" Miss 
Starr responded. "You'll produce something soon, never fear. I 
know what deep designs must be occupying your thoughts!" 

Alex said nothing. 

"You do?" Fillermine said with surprise. "I mean yes, I'm sure — 
all in good time." 

"One must keep one's hand in!" Miss Starr laughed. "I write 
every morning for two hours, whether I feel like it or not." 

Alex said nothing. 

"I'm sure that's the best way," Fillermine said. "But as you say, 
there are so many demands. ... I see a friend beckoning me now, 
as a matter of fact. You'll excuse me, Mrs. Dupont?" 

240 



"Of course!" Miss Starr replied. "So nice chatting with you, Mr. 
Fillermine. Cheerio !" 

Alex said nothing. 

"My God/' Fillermine said, when we had broken away, "talk 
about cold fish. I thought you said she was . . ." He smoothed his 
eyebrow with a finger which trembled almost imperceptibly. 

"She has moods," I explained. 

"Clearly." 

"I'm sorry, Clambert. Not much anyone can do when she decides 
to be bitchy." 

"No, I daresay not," Fillermine said. 

Only then I remembered my original intention to maneuver the 
conversation toward a private talk with Alex. Her performance had 
taken away, if not my breath, at least my volition. 



The departure of Mrs. Rheinklugel and entourage was accom- 
plished with difficulty. The scene was played in two simultaneous 
actions. The General herself, occupying center stage, took the 
leading role, blustery and domineering, showing she could hold her 
drink like a trooper. Her chief attendant was Fillermine, while 
Rollo hovered at the opposite elbow, these supporting roles having 
been defaulted by Carlow and Prunier. The two aides-de-camp, in 
fact, had been painfully stricken by Demon Gin, and in bedraggle- 
ment and hauteur were assisting each other offstage as best they 
could, their bubbly sopranos piping an obbligato to the main dis- 
course. This is a point in the narrative which would benefit from 
the cinema tographer's synoptic view; but I'll do the best I can. 

The General (nodding toward Rollo and speaking in a low 
voice) : "Confidentially, Mr. Sandburg, this gentleman here is 
going to ask me for money — for his magazine, of course. You 
know, I can always tell. They have such an interested look. I may 
not be very bright, Mr. Sandburg, but I am not so dumb either, and 
I know if anyone's interested in me, it's not because I'm . . . well 
. . . you know, Mr. Sandburg?" 

Rollo (in a cautiously sophisticated tone) : "Perhaps you under- 
rate yourself, Mrs. Rheinklugel. And in any case I should warn you 
I can hear everything you are saying." 

241 



The General: "Well, then there's no point in whispering, is 
there? Ha, ha, ha. But it's true, Mr. Sandburg, I know it; he's going 
to ask me for money, you just see if he doesn't. And confidentially, 
what I want you to tell me is, should I give it to him?" 

Fillermine: "Actually, you know, in the first place, my name is 
really—" 

The Carlow: "Oh, my dear, I'm — oops! — frightfully shorry, I 
didn't mean . . ." 

The Prunier: "Thass quite all right, my dear, thass purfeckly all 
right, you juss lean on me, my dear, and don't worry, we'll . . ." 

The General: "You don't say? Funny, I thought all along you 
were Mr. Sandburg." 

Fillermine: "A natural mistake, I'm sure, in the circumstances." 

Rollo: "Mr. Fillermine is from England, Mrs. Rheinklugel, a 
British poet and a very distinguished one." 

The General: "Of course. I knew that But you see, Mr. Silver- 
mine, I still don't know what to do about this request for a 
donation? There are so many demands these days." 

The Carlow: "I say, my dear, you haven't got a shafety-pin, have 
you? My hat's coming apart." 

The Prunier: "Let me see — oh, dear, iss not your hat, iss your 
hair-piesch — seems to be coming apart. . . ." 

The Carlow: "Wait'll I get my hands on that Antoine. I said to 
him, I said, Antoine, will it shtay? And he sez sure, sure, he sez, it'll 
shtay, he sez, you can dee-pend on it. . . ." 

The Prunier: "The rat. He ought to be shtrung up, thass what. 
Shtring him up, I shay!" 

The Carlow: "Eggzackly " 

The Prunier: "Whatchue want to do with it?" 

The Carlow: "Whass that?" 

The Prunier: "This hair-piesch — whatchue you want to . . ." 

The Carlow: "Gimme the goddamn thing, I'll shtick it in me 
pursh. . . ." 

The General: "Now Mr. Silverling, if you could just tell me, 
speaking as a expert — ha, ha, ha — what do you think of this 



magazine?' 



242 



Fillermine: "Really, Mrs. Rheinklugel, I think there's no doubt 
that—" 

The General: "Because, Mr. Seiberling, you see — as a matter of 
fact, I was told by one of my good friends at the D.A.R. last week 
that — you must never say I said so, of course — that, well, frankly 
some of these people are — Communists!" 

Rollo: "Mrs. Rheinklugel, that's absurd. We aren't—" 

The General: "But Mr. Seidlitzer, everyone knows poetry is so — 
radical Isn't it?" 

The Carlow: "My dear, they muss have put something awful 
in..." 

The Prunier: "Purfeckly awful. I've never had a shimple little 
Martini affeck me so. . . ." 

The Carlow: "My dear, iss what comes from soshiating with 
these whaddeyacallum — poets!" 

Fillermine: "All told, Mrs. Rheinklugel, I'm certain it is safe to 
reassure you on that score." 

Rollo: "And besides, Mrs. Rheinklugel, one should support a 
balanced program of — " 

The General: "Are you sure, Mr. Singleton? Because my husband 
— Mr. Rheinklugel? — he always says how it's the — how they're 
ruining the country, you know. He'd never forgive me if I donated 
money to the Democra — I mean the Communists!" 

Fillermine: "I think you can set Mr. Rheinklugel's mind at rest, 
Mrs. Rheinklugel." 

The General: "Well, it is hard to know, isn't it? I mean to know 
what to do" 

Fillermine: "Often it becomes a problem — " 

The General: "Yes, I'm so glad you agree, Mr. Singlevine, so 
glad to find a — kindred soul. Ha, ha, ha. Why, do you know last 
year after I had given to the Catholic Committee for Overcrowded 
Families, the people from the Methodist Orphanage Fund told me 
that the Pope is against birth control? So-o-o-o-o-o perplexing." 

Fillermine: "Yes, indeed. I quite agree." 

The General: "And my husband — Mr. Rheinklugel? — you know 
he can only give me two hundred thousand for the annual charities 
budget, which does sound rather a lot, doesn't it? But when you 

243 



come to try to fit everything in . . . Think of it — three schools, two 
churches, two museums, a clinic, an orphanage, and then there's 
that Mr. McCarthy from Wisconsin who came to dinner and my 
husband says we have to give him . . . well, you know, it's awfully 
difficult, really." 

The Carlow: "Iss what I all-ways say, my dear, eggzackly — you 
givvum a ninch and they'll take a mile. . . ." 

The Prunier: "Ain't it the truth — isn't it? My dear, you juss 
know these people'll be all over ush now. Now we've come to this 
pa-a-arty. . . ." 

The Carlow: "Eggzackly, juss what I was saying, my dear. Them 
and their filthy poison gin. . . ." 

The Prunier: "My dear, all the po-e-tree anybody needs's in the 
Book of Common Prayer. . . ." 

The Carlow: "Eggzackly, my dear, egg-zackly." 

Fillermine: "I sympathize with your predicament entirely, Mrs. 
Rheinklugel. But at the same time, I think our friend here will 
give you good advice." 

Rollo: "You may rely on that, Mrs. Rheinklugel. If perhaps it 
would be convenient for you to — " 

The General: "I don't know, I just don't know, Mr. Filtermane, 
I'm sure I don't know what I'll do. It's so-o-o-o difficult. But here 
we are, aren't we? — the end of a lovely party, and now it's time to 
go. Thank you so much for inviting me, Mr. Fillimore." 

Fillermine: "But I didn't give the party, Mrs. Rheinklugel. You 
must thank this gentleman for that." 

Rollo: "It has been our pleasure, Mrs. Rheinklugel. I do hope 
that—" 

The General: "Never mind, Mr. Filmername, it's been a lovely 
party anyway. I've just loved meeting you. And I do so-o-o-o ap- 
preciate your listening to my troubles." 

Fillermine (a bit briskly): "Not at all, Mrs. Rheinklugel. I 
sympathize with your difficulties. After all, we're all more or less in 
the same boat, aren't we? — though of course some of us go tourist 
class. Ha, ha. Good-by. I'm sure you'll solve your problems. Keep 
your pecker up." 

The General: "My WHAT?" 

244 



Rollo: "Very gracious of you to come to our party, Mrs. Rhein- 

klugel. Please allow me to — " 
The General: "Well! . . . Come along, my dears, time to go 

home. . . ." 
The Carlow: "Yes, juss what I was saying myshelf, my dear. . . ." 
The Prunier: "Eggzackly, she was juss shaying. . . ." 
The General: "You're fried! Both of you- -fried! ... Oh, well, 

lean on me, my dears — we'll manage, never fear. . . ." 

So they paddled away, the old goose and her two goslings, one 

bald and the other speckled, bobbing and babbling as they went. 



The departure of Mrs. Rheinklugel was accomplished, as I say, 
with difficulty. But it was worth it. 

In her wake a cool wave of sanity flowed into the room. 

"My God," Rollo said, and stood leaning against the drapery at 
the side of the door. 

I went to the bar and got a strong highball and brought it to him. 

A general departure of the ladies set in — the society ladies, most 
of whom, fortunately, were more rational than the General — and 
with them went the hangers-on : fops and fairies, mealymouths and 
assorted Magyars. The press had left earlier. The fat priest, dripping 
like a fountain, shook hands all around before he scurried to catch 
the South Shore express. "Damn good show," he said. "Be sure 
to let me know when you're in South Bend." Miss Starr, too, went 
home, leaving a parting shot — "Do come and meet my father, he's 
making his death mask in case no one remembers later on" — 
which remains among my uncherished memories. 

Only the stalwarts were left, a small, brittle group in the echoing 
ballroom. We clustered at the bar, having a last one. Fillermine 
was restless. Paula stood on tiptoe to whisper something indistin- 
guishable in my ear, and she and Rollo departed together, her heels 
ticking on the parquetry. "Drink up," I said, "time to go." The 
bartender looked grateful. 

"Yes," Alex said. "Are we still bound for De Jongh's?" 

"No reason to change our minds, is there?" I asked. 

"No," she said. Then to Charley: "You don't mind if Rig comes 
too, do you, sweetheart? I told him he could." 

245 



Charley smiled and said no. 

"I say, please tell me frankly if I'm butting in, but the fact is 
I'm at loose ends," Fillermine said. ''Would you permit me to join 
you?" 

Alex looked blank. 

I said: "We were planning a little celebration for Charley. You 
see, it's his — " 

But Charley broke in. "No, no — of course, you're welcome. 
Please come with us." 

Fillermine started to speak, but Pocksman got in ahead of him. 
"I'll come too," he said, "and then we can all go over to my place 
afterwards for drinks and things." 

"We wouldn't think of imposing," Alex said. 

"No imposition at all. I'll go call my wife and tell her to fix up a 
few goodies." He danced away in search of a phone. 

"How do you suppose she stands it?" Alex said. 

"His wife? No one knows." 

Fillermine smoothed an eyebrow. "I had no idea you were — " 

"Never mind," I said. "It's only a little dinner to celebrate 
Charley's naturalization — as an American, that is. We'll all have 
a fine time." 

"But I do rather resent finding myself in the same category 
with . . ." Fillermine nodded in the direction Pocksman had taken. 
"Gate-crashers — is that what you call us?" 

We all smiled, being sympathetic and friendly. Bruno passed 
around his faience cigarette case. 

"I guess sometimes everyone finds himself in a category he 
doesn't like," Charley said. 



246 



PART IV 



CHAPTER 38 



I hope I have made clear the importance, the cardinal impor- 
tance, of the day of Fillermine's party, which was so filled with 
conflicting events. There isn't anything particularly unusual in this: 
troubles never occur singly, we habitually say, and everything 
happens at once. During the course of the day (and night), my 
responses to this plethora of experience shifted as my emotional 
stamina flowed and ebbed. The dinner at De Jongh's, for instance, 
was a low point; so low, in fact, that I remember now only a few 
things which were said around the table; and for this reason I pro- 
pose to adopt the artifice of monologue-interieur in reporting it 
to you. 

An outmoded artifice, I grant you — much frowned upon at 
present by those who set the fashion in literature. It was invented 
in the dear dim days beyond recall by writers who hoped it would 
lend greater "realism" to their work. How quaint — as if there could 
be grades of reality. . . . People always adduce the example of the 
one-legged man who still experiences the sensation of his lost foot. 
How much more pertinent to consider the degree of unreality 
which has become attached to our own two feet, we who are 
thought to be "whole." . . . But it is all the same. 

Still, as a technique of journalism, the artifice may be serviceable. 
I hope so. What few words I can recall from the talk at the dinner 
table, I shall put into double quotes in the ordinary way, and the 
rest you must imagine as my own psychic flow at the time. One 
utterance which I do distinctly remember was the waiter's answer 
to my question about the quality of the escargots. He was Italian: 

249 



clean-shaven but with such a heavy dark beard his face looked like 
a half-tone. He said: 

"You like 'em, they're good. You don't like 'em, they're bad. Me, 
I don't like 'em and they stink." Brothers under the skin, mon 
semblable — don't know why I asked in the first place. Conformity; 
bugaboo of being thought unequal; but why must I eat snails and 
stinky mussels-and-truffles merely because I am dining with a 
Frenchman? Red meat, my dish, American fat of the land: five- 
dollar steak, seared and juicy — eh?— and if one must be French, 
bearnaise on the side please, to vary the bites with. To begin? — 
hell, waste of time — all right, the broiled grapefruit, full of Vitamin 
C. . . . That's it. Thank God I snagged a chair next to Fillermine 
instead of that Bruno guy, the — the what? Going to call him queer. 
That's not right. Can he be queer when he's a eunuch? A eunuch, 
an eunuch — funny word. Alien word, yes; never said it before, 
that's sure, and where have I read it? — the Bible no doubt (Philip), 
but can't think of a single poem. So no queer; but behaving damn 
peculiarly for all that — hankering after a woman of the flesh. A 
sexpot. Don't know, can't tell, a queer fellow all the same; horse 
breeder. Compensatory device? Wonder if he goes out in the corral 
or wherever they do it and watches the stallions at work. Wouldn't 
be surprised, standing there supervising the work he can't perform 
himself. Merely vicarious lubricity? — faint vestigial tingle of 
prurient itch aroused in his own flesh from watching animals in 
heat? Laughable? Pitiable? Both — it's always both, the world's re- 
sistance to simplicity. . . . My God, a peeper, guy hooked on a 
goddamn peep show, and if stallions and mares then maybe. . . . 
No! Wouldn't, couldn't. Could she? Could, damn her. Alex and 
some lusty gent, some servant, some stablehand — the stableboy! — 
the goddamn groom. Groom? Know the type precisely, damn his 
eyes, whamming hell out of her; and she loving it; and that de- 
bauched Bruno gazing Christ, no! The filth, filth of it; the filth 

— and me trembling, shaking, ready to bust, the anger growing, 
growing inside me — don't let it out! . . . Eh? What? "You should 
have tried the snails, they're really superb." Ah, Pocksman, you ass, 
for once you spoke up in time, nick of time — only absurdity could 
have intercepted that detonation, it was coming on fast. But look at 
him, look at that Pocksman, eating snails as if he were eating Lord 

250 



knows what, dog turds or something, and his face like a rotten 
lemon, and then saying they're superb! Fool. Who cares? It's that 
Bruno — what does she call him? — that Rig that worries me now. 
And I know nothing, nothing whatever . . . except my own rotten- 
ness. The filth. . . . Guy may be perfectly okay, a great joe — how 
the hell do I know? Don't care for his looks, that's a fact, don't 
like the way Alex looks right now either, that's another fact, don't 
like the way they look together, that's a third bloody fact and pretty 
damn cogent too . . . if you ask me. . . . Philip, Philip, sweet guy, 
sweetest of them all, but I could not do it. . . . Exorcised unclean 

spirits crying with loud voice in their victims — ah! Philip Bruno 

such another? Incredible. But what is credible to me is . . . almost 
nothing now. Dear Philip. . . . Look at that Pocksman, hates snails 
worse than I do, but look at him! — flourishing pincettes like he 
used them every day and talking about the Revue des Deux Mondes 
like he could read it without a dictionary. Probably can, the 
bastard. Ass stuck on his own folly, professor swallowing his own 
learning. Not worth scorning — but Christ! so easy, pouring my 
self-loathing into a caricature of Pocksman. Poor Pocksman. Fool. 
No more than most. You ass! Filthy, frightened, envious — envious? 
Of Pocksman? Yes. Security, confidence — how else could he com- 
mit his follies? Fools always enviable. I am no fool. Too bad. 
Conscious wrongdoer, culprit, thief, betrayer, raked with guilt. 
Repentant? Christ, yes. What good; wonder how the church 
argued it? — probably never was an unrepentant human being in the 
world — for a minute, an hour. Drive to screw-all resumes. ... "I 
don't like them either, as a matter of fact, but I order them once a 
year or so to see if my taste has improved." British point of view. 
Fillermine despicable in a way, low and grubby, you can't help 
setting it against the American self-reliance, specially in Chicago. 
Reliance an aspect of pragmatism — Emerson, all that. Then you 
got to admit British grubbiness works — somehow. Beautifully, in 
comparison with the rest. Here's old Clambert plugging away on 
the snails, driven by God knows what motives of conscience and 
duty, and eventually he probably will end up liking the damn 
things. . . . What's the difference? Fond of him though — in a way. 
Surprising. Better poet than I am. Little children, which bud of 
April sows your eyes with apathy? Good line, good sentiment, good 

251 



honest feeling. That's important. Let the critics rant. . . . Never 
have it, never. Fillermine, at any rate, is enviable, whatever Pocks- 
man is. Yet I don't hate him, not like a year or two ago. Age? 
Getting older? No doubt. Too many competing hatreds? More like 
it. Not true, not true — not hatred, I swear. Never! Not what's in 
me. Love — can't you see that, you idiot? . . . Round and round, 
round and round. . . . Wait, Pocksman working up to something. 
Look at him; here it comes. "I say, Mr. Dupont, now that you 
are . . . ah . . . one of us, so to speak, have you decided to forego 
your origin entirely, or will you teach your children to speak French 
and . . . ah . . ." Now why did Charley throw me that quick glance? 
Should have looked at Alex, shouldn't he? Not having children is 
their quandary. Then he does know, by God, he does — Alex wasn't 
being funny, for once. And Charley looked at me in his shame, 
shame of horns. How could it come to this — so hurtful? I didn't 
know. Must mean more, though, more than shame. Alex pregnant 
now? Maybe. God, wouldn't that be . . . And Charley doesn't know 
who planted the seed. And neither do I. Neither of us will know 
until the child is born. Horrible. But possible. My God, is it? Why 
not? Alex would have told me if she were — but no, point is she 
might not, just might not, the bitch! Love, she calls it. Lies, jokes, 
fears, a man could bear them; but mockery? — too much, too god- 
damn much. Alex herself wouldn't know whose child she was 
carrying until it was born, maybe not ever, and she wouldn't care. 
Though for that matter Charley and I don't look much alike. . . . 
If it came to that, a child there between us — among us. . . . 
Horrible. Have to leave, of course — the simplest part, the best — 
cutting out, cleanly, completely; erase my memory from their 
minds. But Charley would remember — not Alex, but Charley, 
forever. Christ! . . . Now look, a simple fantasy, contrived worry, 
false product of anxiety. No? Yes. Alex not pregnant, bet your life 
on that — no one more careful, knows she's the fertile type, prob- 
ably even realizes she'd be a sucker for a child, true dumb maternal 
animal. Who knows? — maybe she even recognizes this is the only 
love she'll ever be capable of in the fullest sense, because the only 
kind that will return her complete satisfaction, exactly the satisfac- 
tion that brings an end to need, desire, purpose — existence. Who 
knows? Only just now beginning to recognize this about her my- 

252 



self. In any case she's hardened her heart against it — against all of 
us. Can't face anguish of being fulfilled. Blame her? Probably not; 
blame no one. Woman can't be expected to work her way out of 
that one, jammed into a false category by a false society. Even so, 
there's an answer. . . . Like eating steak, probably. Good red meat. 
Natural enough thing to do, yet capable of assimilation to highly 
refined concepts of value. Poets dining, all that sort of thing. . . . 
And the child was born of Pocksman's inanity. It's too much. . . . 

— Yes, it is too much, here and now, nineteen hundred and 
sixty-two, early spring. I can't keep out; don't ask me; all those old 
thoughts and feelings, they pluck up my heart by the roots now — 
by the roots! If only Alex had had a baby. ... It would have been 
something, anyway. So much. The last remnants of snow lie 
rumpled like soiled sheets in the valley. The skunk cabbage has 
appeared in the low places, the red alder and the red-winged black- 
birds in the swamp. The crows have come back to the woods from 
wherever they spent the winter, and the day is logical with their 
vociferations. (I think they spent the winter on the town dump.) 
The air is good, a cleansing wind; the sun is good. Even Linda is 
more rational — by her criteria. Her purpose is sharper, clearer. A 
hunger strike: don't ask me how she decided, where she heard of 
it, if she heard of it, how she, a poor, lost, bitterly ignorant, deaf- 
and-dumb girl in America, could have this communion with 
India's great good man and martyr. It's happening, that's all I 
know. Her protest, her eloquence. Above all, her dignity. But the 
child . . . yes, the child. It is my rationality that dies this spring, I 
think. Starving in Linda's withered womb. Even if the child had 
been Charley's — if Alex had been pregnant — that would have been 
something. In a way, a bit of me. . . . 

— Charley knows, without a doubt he knows: inclemencies and 
unheavals befall us now, the moral weather shrieks in turbulence, 
hang up the hurricane lamps lest we have no light at all. Poetry, 
hyperbole. Bombast even for yourself? Imbecile! Always the show, 
mask, pretense; no decent substance left. If Charley shoots you, 
you'll collapse like a tent, all your trappings will flop on the 
ground. Poetry again — a curse, a defect — bestowed on you as 
blindly, uselessly, painfully as terror in a rabbit's eyes. Can't think 
without it. "I can't quite follow Mr. Pocksman on this point. It 

253 



seems to me that the artist's subjugation to his art, as he calls it, is 
primarily esthetic, not moral. Don't you agree?" Look alive now, 
Fillermine's throwing it at you. Got to be intelligent. But what 
the hell is it about? What are they up to? Say yes, for God's sake, 
quickly. "Well, actually isn't this the old dilemma posed so often 
in our schooldays in terms of form and content? I've always 
thought there may be an alternative consideration, the aspect of 
pure utility. You may say this is begging the question; yet in prac- 
tice it is always possible, I believe, to resolve a conflict in terms of 
its elemental necessity, and from this it may be feasible to erect an 
esthetic of relative values which would be both functional and 
self-consistent within the . . ." What the hell are you saying? What 
kind of jargonistic mess have you got yourself into now, idiot? 
Everyone staring. Couldn't just say yes, could you? — fathead, 
turnip! Ah, well, Pocksman's caught it up, off and running again; 
thank God for that. At least there's a spark of sense in what you 
said, even if you did smother it. Could write it out for them, which 
is more than Pocksman'll ever do. But why does Pocksman insist 
on being so goddamn highbrow? Poor old Charley, look at him, tic 
going like a machine, tzip, tzip, tzip, I wonder if he knows it. Of 
course he does. Eyelid jumping like that, how could he not know, 
even if he weren't so sensitive about it? No complacency against 
the oafish nerve. All you can do is eat steak and rub your gut, like 
a pawnbroker in his back room, and when the anger beckons, when 
the nerve leers and belches, look the other way and think of your 
profits. But at least they could talk about something else for 
Charley's sake — at his party. . . . Charley now, is it anger with 
him — that tic — corrupted desire, madness of jealousy, threatened 
selfhood? God, we're told every day how the saint's placid exterior 
and his good work hide only an extra portion of guilt in the heart, 
we're told how the world runs on energies converted from lust 
and wrath. Sublimation. Loathsome idea. All very well to say a 
positivistic analysis of motives cannot destroy the value of good 
actions — a la Pocksman — look at him sucking on a lobster claw, a 
spider miscegenating with a wasp — but if the whole world agrees 
that sublimity is perversion — ? Jaysus. It'll be an amateur psycho- 
analyst who pushes the button, I bet. . . . Charley's no psycho- 
analyst, nor rationalist, unless you can catch it from reading 

254 



Huckleberry Finn: that's his phase, doesn't seem likely he'll reach 
much beyond. The boy, wise in nature. . . . Charley, Charley, 
name of innocence. Gunning for me? Is that what the tic means, 
violence suppressed — for the moment? Is that what the glance 
means, thrown at me when it should have been thrown to Alex? 
Complicity and guilt: complicity of two who sow their seed in the 
same golden furrow, complicity of two who assist each other 
through the labyrinth of a crime — murderer and victim. Easy for 
me to imagine — in my rottenness. Filth and scum, stew of ego. 
But look. Rottenness is going, receding, draining away like life's 
blood. Look, look. Purification, I am risen, nothing, an eye. A knot 
in the beam. Sure and passionless. An eye never winking. Steady 
and clear. Looking down. Look. These strangers, the fecund 
woman eating lobster, butter on her chin; the white-haired hand- 
some man poking into his pompano en papillote; the spidery man; 
the monkish man; the steak-eater, glowering; the boy with the tic: 
all laid clear, the natural ones, the community of insects, far down, 
performing its ordained function before the season ends. And 
good, good. All goodness. Yes, see the tic of pure love that can 
never be anything else: embarrassment for the other, fear for the 
other — the deepest instinct. Tic of goodness, nothing else. Look. 
The Derfect truth ************************* 

********************************** 
********************************** 

********************************** 
********************************** 

sic*********)}:*********************** 
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255 



CHAPTER 39 



A place to end? Perhaps. It might be pleasant to conclude with 
an affirmative gesture; if that's what it was, that closing cry, and 
not merely a sign of my own crookedness, warp, eccentricity — 
what do you call it? Unreason? . . . But in any event there can be 
no hope of ending now. I go forward inexorably, machinelike. The 
typewriter seems an extension of my fingers; I hold it in front of 
me as a kangaroo holds her young. Writing, writing; and now I 
cannot even say why. I would be inclined to think that I am swept 
by a current, but — I am the current. With no more consciousness 
than transparent water. Flowing; flowing resistlessly. Among gullies, 
sandbars, deltas, shapes of my own making. 

Art, it has been said, is the largess of life. 

The doctor has been with Linda, and now she is weeping — a 
long sigh falling and rising in the house. Before he left the doctor 
said she must be sent to a hospital, where she may be properly fed 
— forcibly if necessary, against her will. If necessary, he said, I must 
"commit" her. He cannot feel the shock of it, the shock turning 
into laughter. I commit Linda? He cannot feel much of anything, 
if the truth were known — Linda's purpose, Linda's being. He is 
blind. He sees only the body breaking. Doctor, look around: I 
nearly shouted it at him; but it would have done no good. 

Linda knows perfectly well what she is doing. I am certain of 
that. And I am also certain that she knows the alternatives, has 
studied them, has rejected them with quiet (ha!) recognition of 
the consequence. Can I tell her she is wrong? Can I say some other 
course would be better? Can you? Linda is hurting me terribly, kill- 

256 



ing me; but her entire value as a human being, I mean her value 
to the world, to me and to you — what "value" does she have to 
herself? — lies in her keeping faith with herself, and with her need 
and reason. If her need and reason destroy her, that is a quality of 
her existence. If they destroy me, that is her curse. And mine. And 
yours. But let us not on that account turn one another into non- 
beings, for then we will have lost everything, everything. As it is, 
we have little enough to get by on. Linda must be herself. She must 
be. I, too. I must go on writing, every day, while this terrible spring- 
time unfolds. 
Art, you see, is the largess of love. 



257 



CHAPTER 40 



Dinner ended in the usual strong coffee, cigarettes, cheese, 
armagnac. Alex ate some tortoni; Fillermine declined coffee. The 
table was littered with cups and glasses and soiled plates, over- 
spilled ashtrays, empty wine bottles. The heavy white cloth was 
rumpled where I had caught it in crossing my knees, and a blotchy 
taupe stain stretched from an upset wineglass. Pocksman's pipe 
fumed, emitting a sour reek. There were six people at table — six 
gnashing bellies. "The trouble with dining out," Bruno said, "is that 
afterwards one has no place to lie down." I was embarrassed for 
him, momentarily. I studied the twin eminences of his frontal 
skull, glittering in the hard light: they reminded me of a scene in 
the Apennines, the shallow fracture falling away southward from 
Ariano, between two high knolls. I remembered that Ariano was 
where I had seen a priest beating a small girl through the street with 
an olive rod. Alex was pursuing the last droplet of tortoni in its 
paper cup with a little silver spoon, frowning intently. She licked 
the spoon, more or less delicately, and placed it on the dish; then 
she straightened, yawned more or less delicately, moved her shoul- 
ders in a more or less delicate stretch, pointing her breasts toward 
Fillermine. Fillermine was impressed. Charley smiled. 

"Shall we go?" Pocksman announced. "Margaret will be ready 
for us now." 

"Margaret?" Alex said. 

"Mrs. Pocksman," he mumbled. 

"We had planned to drop in at Christy's for a while," I said. 

"The jazz place?" Pocksman's voice quavered with disappoint- 
ment. 

258 



"Yes," I said. I held to my point, on the grounds that I had told 
Paula and Rollo we would be there, though chiefly I was interested 
in finding other friends who would be more to Charley's liking. 

"We don't need to stay long," Charley said. 

"All right, all right," Pocksman interposed briskly, heading off 
any further abortion. "And then we'll go on to my place." He got 
up, and the waiter cursed — "Geeee-zus, mac, watch it!" — as he 
caught the rungs of Pocksman's chair across his shins. 

Paying the bill, tipping the waiter (Pocksman gave him nothing, 
I noticed, so I left double), searching for purses and hats, filing 
out — the sheepish procession of the overfed: so the dinner ended. 
M. De Jongh, goatee bobbing, false teeth clacking, intercepted us 
on the threshold and told us again the story (new to Fillermine, of 
course) of his fortuitous escape from Antwerp in 1940. How awful, 
we said, and let's hope nothing like that ever happens again, etc., 
etc. M. De Jongh hauled out a dropsical wallet and displayed a 
snapshot of Mme. De Jongh, who unfortunately hadn't made it at 
the last minute. Poor woman, even in the photograph her destiny 
clung shadowlike to her eyes. A ferlie tear glistered behind M. De 
Jongh's spectacles. 

We were at Christy's soon after nine. Not much doing. The trio 
— piano, cello, bass — was tinkering on the stand behind the bar; 
Ernesto at the piano fingered the chords to "Gee, Baby, Ain't I 
Good to You," very slowly and hypothetically, the cellist was bow- 
ing dissonant arpeggios, while the bassist was writing on a small 
piece of paper which he held against the shoulder of his instru- 
ment. Three students sat together at the bar, drinking beer. Two 
couples occupied one of the forward booths; they were arguing and 
had open books spread on the table between them. Two bartenders 
were setting up for the night. Christy sat, as always, on the rear- 
most barstool, facing forward, one fat elbow propped on the bar. 
She was smoking a cork-tipped cigarette. She wore a purple 
sweater — blotchily died — and raspberry-colored paisley slacks. 
Christy seldom spoke and seldom moved; no one knew what 
manner of life she led. Her characteristic gesture was the slight and 
solemn lifting of one ham whenever she broke wind. 

We pushed through the dimness toward the back, where there 
were a few round tables for larger parties, nodding to Christy as we 
passed. She shook her head, smiling grimly. When we were seated, 

259 



a waitress — hefty and gray-headed — came to take our order. Ciga- 
rettes were lit, the drinks arrived, everyone said cheers and salud; 
we didn't worry about taking on more booze because obviously 
Christy's shot glasses were phony. More customers filtered through 
the haze, and the trio, having struck on an amiable sequence of 
changes, moved into serious work. By the end of half an hour the 
atmosphere had deepened to blue tenebrosity, most available 
spaces had been filled, and our table had broken up into separate, 
more or less peripatetic groups. As I edged back to the men's, I 
reflected that half an hour was about the average time required. 

My piratical image loomed in the freckled mirror like Neptune 
rising through the foam. I poised my left eyebrow at the sexy 
slant and glared at myself. Not bad. Considering the stress of 
recent hours, that is. I always looked better at night. Of course, to 
be completely honest, I needed to shave twice a day; but the murk 
of Christy's disguised my emerging stubble. Really, not bad at all, 
I decided. I gave myself a parting scowl, and returned to the bar 
with an easy, self-confident tread. 

Fillermine and Alex were seated at the bar, and I could see he 
was, as he would say, having another go at it: lust glazed his eyes, 
which were turned toward me. I paused a moment in admiration, 
surprised at being required to admit to myself that they made a 
supremely handsome pair. As I've had occasion to remark already, 
Alex from the back — as I saw her now — can be just as dramatic as 
from the front. In her smoky blue dress she balanced on the bar- 
stool, one foot drawn up and tucked behind the calf of the other 
leg, which extended with a pointed toe along the flare of the stool. 
Her spine beneath the taut fabric curved upward from its root like 
a wisteria stem, her dark-gold hair burned and smouldered. Filler- 
mine faced her, hovering on tense haunches, white-haired and 
broad-shouldered — he looked lean, hard, tall. Two animals, I re- 
flected, caught in an old deadly game; I could almost hear the tiger's 
scream of sexual torture splitting Christy's subtropical gloom. It 
was, in fact, an awesome but tantalizing spectacle for civilized man 
to behold. Yet how complex these animals were. And how complex 
their game had become. I decided to intervene. 

"Do you imagine," Fillermine was saying in a sneering tone, as 

260 



I came to stand beside them, "that you can throw your sex about 
in that manner without arousing interest?" 

"I do not throw my sex about, Mr. Fillermine," Alex replied. 
Her voice was full and hard, and at the same moment the cello 
throbbed on a strong, vibrant note. "You talk as if I waggled my 
hips like a common whore." 

"Nothing of the kind," Fillermine said. "Your style is superb." 

Alex uttered a mock laugh. "Thank you. And what do you 
suggest I do to save visiting firemen from my snares? Dress in long 
black robes and walk like a nun?" 

"You should damn well not display it unless you intend to . . . 
use it." 

"Nonsense. I'm not displaying it, except to some." She was 
looking steadily at the tip of his ear. "What do you mean?" 

"Your dress, movements . . . your smell, for God's sake!" 

It was as if I weren't there. They paid no attention to me, 
though I was standing at their elbows, and I could see that one of 
the bartenders was listening too. Clearly, Fillermine was in a bad 
way. 

"You exaggerate," Alex said. 

"Not a bit." A muscle flickered in Fillermine's jaw. 

"Well, you've got a peculiar way of trying to persuade me to 
sleep with you. You Englishmen, you think you're so clever. All 
this line of being so rational and open-minded and objective — " 

"Do you think for a minute I'd attempt to use a 'line' on some- 
one like you?" Fillermine turned away for a moment, and some of 
the tension went out of his bearing. "Look here," he said, turning 
back to Alex, "at this point I've given up — as you know perfectly 
well. It's clear you're not going to sleep with me, though I'm 
damned if I know why. Certainly you're not the sort to be impeded 
by affectations of fidelity — " 

"Don't be so sure." 

"Why not?" 

"Just don't." 

"Very well. Fidelity or no, I'm certain pleasure comes first with 
you. And let me tell you I'd give you more pleasure than you 
ever had with — " 

"Be careful." 

261 



"No. I'm perfectly sincere. And I'm not boasting — at my age I 
don't need to." Fillermine smoothed his eyebrow. "Have you ever 
been in England?" 

"No." 

"Then what do you know about Englishmen?" He leaned his 
elbow on the bar. "I can tell you something about the English, if 
you'd care to hear it." 

Alex nodded. 

"There's not a woman in the British Isles who could give the 
appearance of being aware of what her natural body's for, the 
appearance that you give in every movement — you and a dozen 
other American women I've seen on the streets of Chicago alone, 
in the last two days. You can do it beautifully. You're superbly 
healthy, for one thing, and you can afford good clothes, for another. 
And you're taught from childhood the techniques of allurement. 
But you're bogus, you're all so many brummagem dolls. You can't 
play the game through — " 

"You're being silly — you know that? It's just not true." 

"Wait a minute." Fillermine made a slight expostulatory move- 
ment. "I don't mean American women haven't succumbed to me, 
if you'll permit the word. In fact, most of them do, the ones I have 
a go at. But what's it like?" His voice hardened. "I have no illu- 
sions about it, believe me. These women accept me because I'm a 
poet, they're the kind of women who can't resist a poet, and 
America is full of them. But when it comes to the thing itself — 
why, your hip-waggling whores have more respect for it than you 
do. You've got the show, the appearance, the display, but that's 
all — like your magnificent frigid movie stars. Any English girl. . . ." 
His voice trailed off. 

"You're not so clever, after all. How can you oversimplify like 
that? People are different, not countries." 

"Oh, no — don't make that mistake. People are different, yes. But 
so are countries; so are cultures and civilizations. Perhaps I exag- 
gerate the differences for the sake of my point, but they're still 
real differences." 

"Birdlime! A woman is a woman, English or American." 

"Nevertheless, I've had both. You can't deny I'm — " 

"You know what I think you are?" 

262 



"What?" 

"Filth." 

Fillermine smiled, as if to himself, and got down from the bar- 
stool and walked away. I took his place. 

"Hello, Poppy," she said. 

I warmed instantly, of course. "An admirable performance," I 
said, crinkling my eyes. "But did you have to be so rough with 
him?" 

"He asked for it, didn't he?" 

"Perhaps. But I think he was honestly trying to seduce you. He 
was being complimentary — at first, anyway." 

"I didn't think so." 

I fished up my pack of cigarettes and lighted two, handing one 
to her. "Have another?" I asked, pointing to her glass. She nodded. 
I signaled the bartender, and when he came she said bourbon and 
water and I said the same. "What about your theory that you can't 
have too much?" I asked, putting a wary sarcasm into my voice. 

She looked thoughtful. "It might have been fun to knock down 
his pride a bit. The fool!" She drew a circle on the bar with the 
point of her finger. "But it really wouldn't have been worth the 
trouble, not with a guy like that. Anyway not tonight. When 
things get too complicated there isn't time to . . ." 

"Savor it?" 

"Something like that." 

"You're a wonder, Alex. My God!" 

We drank our drinks. 

I asked: "Is there time for me?" 

"I hope so, Poppy. Naturally." She smiled sweetly. 

I touched her knee with mine, under cover of the bar. "When?" 

"Oh, I can't tell yet. You leave the arrangements to me." 

"Of course," I said. I increased my pressure slightly, and moved 
my knee so that I could feel the resilient flesh just above her 
kneecap; and a hand fell on my shoulder. I jumped back, quaking. 

It was Rollo. "Glad to find you still here," he said. 

"Hello," I said. I swiveled round, regaining some of my com- 
posure. "How's it going?" 

"Splendidly," he said. 

"Where's Paula?" 

263 



"Over there." He removed his hand from his pocket, and waved 
it vaguely toward the front. I looked, and saw Paula near the 
entrance, standing beyond the front curve of the bar, looking 
especially vernal in that blighted atmosphere. She was talking with 
Fillermine. 

"Where you been?" I asked. 

"We had dinner at the Pump." 

"Foreclose somebody's mortgage?" 

Rollo smiled. "I thought she deserved a little high life," he said, 
"after her labors in the cause." 

"It was a lovely party," Alex said. "Fd say you both deserved it." 

"Thank you," Rollo said. He looked well pleased. 

Alex slid down from her stool. "Excuse me," she said, "I think 
my husband needs rescuing from the professor." I saw that Pocks- 
man had Charley pinned against the wall at the back of the room. 
Alex nodded, almost imperceptibly, toward Paula and Fillermine. 
"Watch out for that guy," she said, and walked away. 

Rollo raised his eyebrows. 

"True," I said. "He's stalking any game. Fair or otherwise." 

"Oh," Rollo said. 

"Raiding poets always think they can bear off any prize. Come 
on," I said, "Paula needs rescuing too." 

I started toward the front, but Rollo put his hand on my arm. I 
saw from his sober expression that his confidence had weakened. 
"Maybe we'd better not ... I mean maybe she'd rather we 
didn't " 

"Rollo." I said his name sharply. "For Pete's sake, don't give 
up now." 

He said nothing, but made no move to accompany me. He was 
looking at Fillermine — indecisively, I thought. 

I determined for strong measures. "Look, Rollo," I said, "I 
happen to know Paula will be exceedingly disappointed if we don't 
rescue her. Exceedingly." 

"You know?" 

"Yes." I gave him a straight look. 

Rollo set out then, and I followed, down the aisle along the bar. 
When we reached the front, Rollo stepped close to Paula and took 
her hand. "Hello," he said. "I've brought the boss." 

264 



Paula smiled gratefully. I kissed her temple. "Blessings," I said. 

"We were wondering what the program for the rest of the 
evening is," Fillermine said. 

I'll bet you were, I said to myself. Aloud: "I don't see why we 
shouldn't push on to the Pocksmans'. The liquor'll be better, at 
any rate. And since we have only ourselves, the company can't be 
any worse." 

"Good," Rollo said. 

"I'll announce the sortie," I said. 

As I walked back along the aisle to collect the others, I waved 
to Ernesto, who was deep in a long solo on "Wrap Your Troubles 
in Dreams." He made a tremolo on a diminished thirteenth, and 
winked. 



265 



CHAPTER 41 



The end of the weather disturbance brought cool, placid stillness 
to Chicago. A trailing wind moved across the face of the water, and 
moaned, far off, until it was no more than a resonance in the mind, 
like Linda's weeping. The clouds wore thin; they frayed and parted. 
One by one, then more quickly, the stars came out, diminutive 
beacons riding on all the horizons of the universe, conveying 
friendliness and hope from the immense distances; and the three- 
quarter moon set sail, high and bright. The long roll of the waters 
slackened, settled, and slowly fell to rest. That night autumn came 
to the lake. 

Let our angers, too, be stilled, I thought. And then: all in good 
time. 



266 



CHAPTER 42 



Pocksman lived on the other side of the Midway. For the sake 
of non-Chicagoans, I should explain that the Midway is a broad 
green strip cutting across the South Side, near the university. It is 
all that remains of the Columbian Exposition of 1893, which is a 
considerable point of aggravation to students of architecture: I 
remember Cienkiewycz more than once lamenting to me the dis- 
appearance of the exposition buildings which had been designed 
by Louis Sullivan. On certain foggy nights Little Sheba still dances 
on the Midway, to the faint winding notes of the syrinx and for the 
delectation of befuddled young students on their way home. Pocks- 
man lived in a house of intricate and long-faded elegance, a three- 
story wooden structure cowering in a cul-de-sac off Woodlawn 
Avenue; it was a house which baffled the eye with its complexity of 
porches, bays, turrets, colored fanlights, gingerbread, and fish-scale 
shingling, and there was a tangle of soot-blackened rosebushes in 
the front yard. 

Our three cars — Pocksman's, Bruno's, and mine — hove to at the 
curb, and the company disembarked; we had been joined, I saw, by 
two female artists and one male philosophy student. A streetlight 
shed its moldy glimmer on the scene; the moon, beyond the house- 
tops, seemed remote and cold. Our small noises resounded in the 
night: car doors slamming, high heels clattering, a few words in 
different voices dropped like coins on the pavement. Someone 
flipped a cigarette into the street, where it burst like a tiny rocket. 

Led by Pocksman, the company assaulted the flight of wooden 
steps which led to the porch, rumbling like a cannonade. I thought 

267 



of Mrs. Pocksman waiting inside, alone. How did these thundering 
footsteps sound to her? Frightening, amusing, or only tedious? 

Impossible to tell. She was waiting behind the door, and met us 
with old-fashioned courtesy: so good of you to come, very happy to 
meet you at last, please come in, let me take your hat, etc., etc. 
Her dress, too, was a trifle old-fashioned, and like her manner was 
more formal than anything to which we had been accustomed by 
the events of the afternoon and evening so far; it was a light print 
of some expensive fabric — silk? — which fell nearly to her ankles 
and was clasped at the breast with jade. She wore a jade ring. She 
had been a beauty once, unmistakably. But the luster had been 
corroded by — well, I thought I saw the shadow of fear, the shadow 
of the expectation of fear, darkening in her eyes. Her features were 
still fine; but her mouth turned down and she was too thin, her 
brownish throat was sunken. Her movements intimated weariness. 
I did not know quite what to think of Mrs. Pocksman. A mousy 
type, obviously, I said to myself at first; but then almost imme- 
diately I was caught by something in her expression which un- 
covered the wells of sympathy in me — forgive, please, my stupid 
way of saying it, but in fact I did experience a slight overflow. I 
liked her, I decided; all the more when I looked around. Within 
that hideous dwelling she had created a pleasing, interesting world. 
It was her doing, I was sure, not Pocksman's. Nothing costly or 
ostentatious, but much that expressed the woman's good taste: 
there was a large shallow bowl of beaten pewter I'd have liked to 
own myself, and on the escritoire other fine objects of pewterware; 
the only picture was a sixteenth century Genoese map of Hiero- 
solyma. There was one bold note, excruciating in its intentionally 
corny assertiveness; how I knew, on such short acquaintance, that it 
was not only intentional but intentionally corny, I don't know; 
but I was certain of it. The shallow pewter bowl contained a 
wooden hand, female and delicate, exquisitely made and jointed 
with dovetails — I took it for either an artist's or a glover's manikin, 
and I have the distinct feeling that such a hand occurs somewhere 
in a painting by De Chirico — which lay palm upward with loosely 
curved fingers, and held a porcelain egg, softly tinted with rose. 

It is creatures like Mrs. Pocksman who make young persons of 
thirty, as I was then, so deathly afraid of being forty. 

In the next room the dining table supported a layout such as 

268 



I've never seen elsewhere except in a professional eating house, and 
seldom enough there. Memorable: the term is not excessive, since 
obviously I remember it. Tiny spareribs with a spiced honey-and- 
pineapple sauce; Italian sausages; baked prunes wrapped in bacon; 
corn crackers covered with an impasto of shredded ham and grated 
provolone; mushrooms stuffed with minced smoked turkey; a 
whipped paste of avacado and mint, served on saltines; a huge bowl 
of cold boiled shrimp; another of raw cauliflower, to go with a 
roquefort-and-cream-cheese dressing; a third of fresh apricots; 
and, of course, sardines, herrings, gefiillte fish, smoked oysters, 
anchovies, and Lord knows what all. Plus olives, celery, carrots, 
radishes, pickles, nuts, chutney, coconut, cucumbers, pretzels, mints, 
candied fruit, English biscuits, and (so help me) a cheesecake as 
big as a . . . a . . . well, say a medium sized suitcase. . . . Paula, Alex, 
and I stood at one end, transfixed. 

"My God/' Paula gasped. "When could she have done it? She 
must have been working every second since she got that phone 
call." 

"I should think so," I said. 

Alex said: "Can you imagine anyone taking the time? Or having 
the ambition? I thought this sort of thing was repealed by the 
nineteenth amendment." 

"It was," Paula said. 

"Speaking from the masculine point of view," I remarked, "it's a 
sight to gladden the heart." 

"Mine, too," Alex said. "Strangely." 

"But we'll have to eat it," Paula said. "I can't say it gladdens my 
stomach." 

"Not much choice, is there?" Alex replied. "We can't ignore it — 
not after she's put so much into it." 

"But we just ate!" Paula said in protest. "I don't see how I 
can." She picked up a stuffed mushroom and experimentally 
popped it into her mouth. 

"Oh, well," Alex said thoughtfully, "not right away. There's a 
little time to wait, isn't there? What time is it, anyway?" 

I looked at my watch. "About ten-thirty," I said. 

"I shouldn't think we'd be expected to take all this very seriously 
till after midnight," Paula murmured. "Would you?" 

"No," I said. 

269 



"Definitely not," Alex said. 

"Just think/' Paula added, "we might not have shown up at all." 

Pocksman appeared, lighting his pipe. 

"When I was a young graduate student," he said, "the chairman 
of my [puff, puff] doctoral committee once took me aside and told 
me: Tocksman [puff, puff, puff], the mark of a true scholar is 
that he always [puff, puff] gets out the hooch as soon as the guests 
arrive/ " 

We said ha, ha. 

"Shall we have a drink?" Pocksman added. 

We went back into the living room. A card table had been set up 
in the middle of the floor, and covered with about fifteen layers of 
newspaper; on it stood an assortment of bottles, an ice bucket, 
glasses, a pitcher of water. 

"Not very genteel," Pocksman apologized. "My wife frowns on 
it. But I say to her: 'Dear, the eatables are your department, let the 
booze be [puff, puff, puff] mine.' Ha, ha." 

We all smiled. 

"What'll you have?" Pocksman asked, sweeping the room with a 
ghastly smile. 

We all said bourbon, except the philosophy student, who said 
rye. 

"Rye?" Pocksman sneered. "I didn't know anyone around here 
drank rye whiskey any more." 

"I'm from Weehawken," the philosophy student said. 

"New Jersey?" Pocksman asked. 

Paula hiccuped. "Excuse me," she said. 

"Well, I haven't got any rye," Pocksman declared. "What else'll 
you [puff, puff] have?" 

The philosophy student said bourbon. 

Pocksman fixed the drinks, making them all very dark except one, 
which was about the color of rheum. He handed the drinks around, 
giving the colorless one to Mrs. Pocksman with a little bow. "Here's 
to the future of drinking," he said. "Ha, ha." He held up his glass. 

We all gulped. 

"Let's sit down," he said. 

We all sat down. 

"Had an interesting thing happen in my novel class the other 

270 



day," Pocksman said. "One of the students [puff, puff] said, 'If 
Zola wanted to be a genuine naturalist, why didn't he write about 
what he knew best, the natural life of his own class?' Set me back 
a bit, I can tell you. After all, what do you suppose is responsible 
for the perennial affinity of the artist with . . . ah . . . shall we say, 
low [puff, puff] life? Fundamentally, I mean." 

Silence. Someone was tapping his foot. I looked, and it was 
Fillermine. 

Finally Bruno said: "Maybe it has something to do with the 
artist's rebellion against his early surroundings. Isn't that con- 
sidered practically mandatory for anyone who wants to write?" 

"A [puff, puff] surface explanation only, I believe," Pocksman 
said, hopping up and down on his chair. "It may suffice to account 
for the artist's initial overture to the . . . ah . . . muse, but will it 
sustain a lifelong [puff, puff] endeavor? You see what I mean." 

Silence. One of the female painters blew her nose vigorously on 
a Kleenex. She had a bad cold. 

Mrs. Pocksman said: "But it isn't true of all novelists, certainly. 
Take Jane Austen, for — " 

"Ah, my dear," Pocksman snarled, spinning on his chair like a 
machine gun, "you don't stop to think that Jane Austen's characters 
drawn from her own class — Mr. Bennet, say — are caricatures, while 
she lavishes her fondest attentions on the villains, Wickham and 
Darcy." 

Silence. Alex jiggled the ice in her glass; Rollo ran his forefinger 
under his collar. 

Mrs. Pocksman said: "But surely, dear, you don't say that Darcy 
was a representative of the low li — " 

"Inversion, that's all. A simple inversion — the same rule applies," 
Pocksman snapped. He jammed his pipe in his mouth. 

Silence. You could have cut it into strips and sold it for 
insulation. 

At last there was a whirring sound from the next room, and a 
clock undertook to announce the hour. We all counted the strokes. 
Eleven. We all looked at our watches — to make sure. 

"Mrs. Pocksman," Charley said, diffidently. "I wonder if I could 
turn on the radio for a few minutes. I'd like very much to hear the 
weather report. We're planning a trip in the morning." 

271 



"Why, of course," Mrs. Pocksman said, rising immediately. "It's 
here, in the dining room." 

Good old Charley — not one of the rest of us could have found 
the tact to do it so well. He got up too, and so did a number of 
the rest. There was a general stirring about, talking, lighting of 
cigarettes, and so on — the ice was broken at last. Lord knows how 
it had got frozen so solid in the first place. The party was under 
way. 



272 



CHAPTER 43 



Before long, the course of natural events led me in search of the 
john. Do not fear, I won't try your patience with an exercise in 
the description of my ritual exertions, though this has, I know, 
now become the experimentum cruris of every proper prose-writer. 
I decline to commit myself to the trial. Which is not, sadly, so 
much a question of principle as of simple humane feeling. When 
you are living in the same house with a person who has not gone 
to the bathroom, one way or the other, for more than forty-eight 
hours, such a game loses its appeal. To say the least. I mean 
Linda, of course, beautiful Linda, serene Linda. This may seem to 
you a peculiar way of recognizing her falling away into grace. All 
I can say is that it does not seem peculiar to me. What her 
thoughts may be I can no longer even guess; but she smiles now, 
and will smile for hours as I sit holding her hand, looking at me 
from time to time from beneath her attenuated lids. Her eyes are 
lustrous and deep, though she has no fever. It's I who have fever, 
the pain now is all mine, I think, although the cure can only be 
worked in her. But no cure exists for this illness. If I somehow, 
anyhow, could revive the force of that young lucid body, if I 
could. . . . But the mechanism is broken, like a flower the wind 
has cracked. 

You see — don't you? — the urgency which besets my task. 

In the course of searching — I resume; have patience — I found 
the john. A good enough john, though old. It was on the second 
floor, the last room but one in a hallway extending the length of 
the house. When I reached it, however, the door was closed; and 

273 



I wandered on a few steps to the end of the hall. The final room, 
beyond the John, was open, but dark. I looked in, I struck a match 
and held it up — the room was small and bare, except for a small 
bed. My match burned my finger and I blew it out, but went on in, 
feeling my way to the bed: it was covered with a plain white 
counterpane, made of some ribbed fabric, and had only the mat- 
tress underneath — stripped for action, so to speak. The specula- 
tions that you can imagine as well as I crossed my mind as I came 
out again into the hallway and resumed my vigil. Fortunately, I 
had learned some years before not to wait till the last moment 
when I was at parties, and so I wasn't suffering. When the bath- 
room door finally opened, Alex was the one who came out. 

"Hey, come here," I said, unerringly. "Hurry." 

"Where?" 

"In here." I showed her the room, almost pushing her in. I 
struck another match, turned on the light, shut the door and slid 
to the small bolt that locked it. Only then I noticed that the 
window shades were already drawn. I sat down on the bed. "Cozy, 
eh?" 

"Very," Alex said, coldly. She walked a few steps, but then 
came and sat beside me. 

"What do you suppose it's for?" 

She looked at me. Her expression wasn't in the least promising: 
she seemed undecided whether to laugh or jeer. "What the un- 
utterable hell do you think it's for, you old letch?" She turned 
away. "An alcoholic letch, at that." 

"I was just asking," I said. "No need to get spleenish about it." 

"Just asking!" Alex expelled a breath gustily. "You think I don't 
know when I'm being propositioned? It's an empty room," she 
said, speaking with exaggerated precision, "just an empty room. If 
you lived alone with your middle-aged wife in a three-story house, 
don't you think you'd have an empty room?" 

"The point is," I said, my voice wobbling, I fear, between 
unction and acrimony, "it's not empty— it's got a bed in it." 

"All right then, have it your way. Mrs. Pocksman is taking tricks 
on the side — to earn Christmas money." 

"Okay, okay." Alex is the only woman I've known who could 
be genuinely shocking. "I just meant it's . . . hell, it's convenient, 

274 



I don't know why it's here but it is convenient, and I thought . . . 
But let it pass. What's come over you anyway — you're more 
changeable today than I've ever seen you?" 

"Not true. But I do have some sense of propriety." 

"And I don't, I suppose?" 

"No, Poppy, you don't — especially when you're tight." 

"I'm not ti— " 

"Yes, you are. Pretty much anyway." She smiled. "There's a 
time and place, you know. For everything." She put her hand over 
mine. "Not now. And not here." 

"Okay." 

"That's for the university kids, that back-room business at 
parties. University kids and poets." 

"Well, I am a poet." 

"Not when I love you," she said. 

"I see," I said. "Well, at least you laid that on the line." 

We were both silent, looking at the uncovered floor. 

Then Alex spoke. "Do you realize it's only been a few weeks — 
not even two months — since . . ." 

"Lake Jones?" 

She nodded. 

"Yes. It does seem longer, doesn't it?" 

She nodded again, and got up from the bed. She bent, raised 
her skirt, pulled down her slip by the hem. 

"Have you made the . . . arrangements yet?" I asked. 

"I'll be on the Promontory at one o'clock," she answered. 

This time I nodded. I got up too, staggering momentarily. 
Pocksman's bourbon was better than Christy's, without a doubt. 

"You'll be a dead fish by one o'clock," Alex said. 

"Not a bit," I said. "I'll go easy after this." 

I unlocked the door and turned out the light, and we stepped 
into the hallway; but we were caught — by Fillermine. He had just 
turned into the hallway from the stairs as we went through the 
door. 

"Hello," he said. "I thought it was the next-to-the-last room." 
He raised his eyebrows and smiled. 

"It is," I said pleasantly. "Help yourself." 

Alex slipped past Fillermine and hurried down the stairs. 

275 



"Then what's in here — as if it weren't obvious?" He peered into 
the last room. "A bit functional/' he observed. "But adequate, 
adequate." He withdrew his head and turned toward me. "But I 
see my chief hope has been thwarted." 

"It wasn't much of a hope, Clambert." 

"Obviously," he said. "Congratulations. But tell me — I wasn't 
properly introduced to the two young ones — would you mind?" 

"The painters? Not at all. Their names are Ruth Travicic and 
Mary Donaldson." 

"So many Biblical names in America, aren't there? Heritage of 
separatism, I daresay." 

"Perhaps. There's a lot of it around," I said. "Frankly, Clam- 
bert, I don't think your hopes are particularly rosy in this case 
either." 

"No? I suppose they're both head over heels in love, eh? The 
young and brave?" 

"That's the ticket." 

"Spirit of pietism." He spoke with quiet exasperation. "What 
kind of men do you have in this country, that can lock up a 
young female's . . . ah . . . constituent parts and then stay home 
and sleep while the dear thing goes galloping around and showing 
off? It's . . . it's Ptolemaic." He frowned. "See here, just for 
curiosity's sake, whom are they in love with?" 

"With each other, I imagine." 

I patted his arm sympathetically, and slipped into the bathroom 
ahead of him. 

When I got downstairs, I was drawn, inevitably, to the card 
table. Pocksman came forward and began making drinks for both 
of us. 

"Easy, man, easy," I protested. "The night is young, relatively." 

He blinked. Then: "Quite so, old man. I'm beginning to feel a 
bit loopy myself." I couldn't see that he diminished his own por- 
tion any, however. 

"Cheers," I said. 

"By all means," he said, and swallowed a large gulp. "I say, old 
man, I was wondering about those . . . ah . . . poems, you know?" 
He filled his pipe from a greasy pouch. "I mean, I'd rather like to 
know when I might expect to hear?" He struck a match. "Your 

276 



decision, that is. I'm [puff, puff] rather eager, you know, to 
[puff, puff, puff] place them definitely because [puff, puff, puff, 
puff] well, frankly, I've been asked to give something to the ... ah 
. . . university literary quarterly?" 

I gasped involuntarily as Pocksman's acerbic tobacco smoke en- 
veloped me. 

"Sorry, old man," he said. "Bit strong for you?" 

"A little gamy," I said. 

"Ah," he said, putting the pipe down on the card table. He 
pulled again at his glass. "As I was saying," he went on, "about 
those little verses of mine, I rather wonder if you could let me have 
some sort of . . . ah . . , timetable, perhaps?" 

"Oh, it'll be soon now, very soon," I said offhandedly. "Been 
busy as hell with this party for Fillermine," I lied. "Had to wait 
till this was wound up before I could tackle the new manuscripts." 

"Ah, yes. Of course. Well, I just thought I'd mention it. Hap- 
pens to be a rather ticklish business for me, you know? Meeting the 
quarterly's deadline and waiting for your decision at the same time 
— all that sort of thing." He picked up his pipe again and struck a 
match. "I mean, I'd much rather have the [puff, puff] verses in 
Pegasus, of course — you know how it is — but at the same time, you 
[puff, puff] see, I've been definitely asked [puff] by the quarterly?" 

I gasped again. 

"Sorry," he said. He rammed the pipe into his side pocket. 
"Habit, you know." 

"Don't apologize," I assured him. "And don't worry about your 
poems — you'll be hearing in a day or two, a week at the most." I 
lied again; quite expertly, I thought. "I say, old man — " I cursed 
inwardly for my weakness in imitating him " — excuse me, will you? 
I want to have a word with Paula." I turned away before he could 
answer. 

I couldn't find Paula, but Rollo, who was standing with Mrs. 
Pocksman, beckoned to me. They were near the foot of the stairs. 

"Splendid party," I said to Mrs. Pocksman. 

"Thank you so much," she replied, her voice lowered. "But I'm 
afraid there's some unpleasantness." She gestured hesitantly toward 
the upper floor. 

"What's up?" I said cheerily to Rollo. 

277 



"I'm not quite sure. Seems Fillermine's up to something." 

"Ummm," I said. "Little room at the end of the hall?" 

'Tes, I'm afraid so/' Mrs. Pocksman said. 

"Who's with him?" 

"Mrs. Pocksman thinks it's Paula." 

"Well, get up there, get up there!" 

"But what the hell — excuse me — can I do?" 

"Listen," I said, "if you care anything about that girl, anything 
at all, you understand? — you'd better do something " 

"All right." Rollo looked worried, but turned toward the stairs. 

Mrs. Pocksman smiled. "Wait," she said. "I didn't realize ... I 
mean, I didn't know you. . . . Well, anyway, I think I have a plan. 
Let's all go up." 

We mounted the stairs — a rather odd trio, I thought, to be going 
to the bathroom, but no one appeared to notice. 

When we came to the last door, Mrs. Pocksman said, "Let me. 
. . ." She rapped on the door gently. The murmured voices inside 
stopped. "Mr. Fillermine," she called. "Mr. Fillermine, telephone 
for you." She paused. Then: "It's from London." 

It worked. Fillermine knew, obviously, when he was licked. The 
door opened almost immediately, and he came out, looking un- 
ruffled, brushing a speck from his sleeve. "I say," he smiled, "from 
London? How appalling!" He stepped around Rollo deftly and 
headed toward the stairs. 

"Hurry!" Mrs. Pocksman whispered with a surprising hiss, and 
she pushed Rollo, with her hand squarely in the small of his back, 
through the door. Before he knew it, he was inside and she had 
closed the door with a soft click. 

She turned and scurried after Fillermine. 

I was left standing alone in a state of discomposure which was 
equaled, I'm afraid, by Rollo's. I went into the bathroom and 
looked at myself; raised my eyebrows; clucked my tongue; straight- 
ened my tie and nodded knowingly to myself. Feeling reassured — 
less like someone who has just arrived at a bus stop in time to see 
the bus pulling away — I came out again. Since Rollo was still out of 
sight and since I had heard no cries for help, I shrugged my shoul- 
ders and walked to the stairs. 

The view from the top of the stairs afforded a tableau of the 
company at large. Fillermine and Mrs. Pocksman, standing under 

278 



the archaic map, were bathed in laughter and complaisance, get- 
ting on famously. The poet had taken the hoaxed telephone call 
with good grace, and I silently commended Mrs. Pocksman's 
finesse. The two painters had Pocksman half smothered between 
them on the sofa, babbling in both his ears simultaneously, show- 
ing him something on a sketch pad; for once the professor looked 
out of his element. Charley and the philosophy student were 
seated on straight chairs by the escritoire, leaning their elbows 
backward on the opened lid; they were talking, smiling, enjoying 
themselves, Charley was sitting in a slouch with his ankles crossed, 
there was no trace of a tic. I wondered what they could possibly 
be talking about. Alex and Bruno were not in sight, I noticed with 
some trepidation, but I thought they might be in the kitchen or 
dining room. I descended the stairs slowly, lighting a cigarette, and 
wandered through the other rooms, but found no one but a large 
English bulldog asleep under the kitchen table. From among the 
folds of his obesity, he pronounced my doom with one flaming eye, 
and went back to sleep. 

I approached the card table, and spooned up a fresh piece of ice 
from the puddle in the ice bucket, plopping it into my glass. 
Charley was saying, behind me: "Oh, no. We don't swaddle the 
infants any more — only in the most backward areas. But maybe 
French kids get the same result from their sleeping — uh — arrange- 
ments. We're always overcrowded, especially in the cities." 

Smiling, I turned around, picked up a ladder-back chair, and 
went to join them. "Don't let me interrupt," I said. 

"We're just talking — not seriously, you know. We tried a bit of 
philosophy, at least I asked a few questions, but—" Charley 
shrugged. "I wasn't up to it," he said simply. 

"It's too bad, in a sense," the philosophy student said. He was a 
redheaded boy, thin, pale, good-looking. "But when you study the 
damn stuff so much, you necessarily get kidnaped by the techniques 
and you can't talk without them. Same problem everywhere, of 
course. Dangers of specialization. Still, I'm naive enough to think 
philosophy ought to be for everybody." 

"Depends on what kind of philosophy it is, I expect," I ventured. 

"Yes," the student answered. "Yes. That and a man's readiness 
to admit that life is problematical. Most people won't, you know." 

"There, you see?" Charley said. "Just when I think I know what 

279 



problematical means, or some other word like that, I hear it in a 
new sentence, and then it seems to me I don't understand it any 
more." 

"The so-called language barrier, Charley," I said. "We've all got 
it, more or less. And ultimately it's not important." 

"Well, it's damned inconvenient," Charley said. 

"You do remarkably well, it seems to me," the student put in. 

"He does indeed," I said, "and he really knows more words than 
he thinks, only he's afraid to use them. Perfectly understandable." 

Charley studied his hands. His tic began working, like a hair- 
spring in his eye. 

"I'm hungry as a bear," the student said. "When do we get a 
chance at the eats?" 

"Any time you like, I guess. We've all been holding off because 
we had enormous dinners." 

"Well, I didn't." As a matter of fact, he looked as if he hadn't 
eaten a full dinner in years. "I think I'll . . . give it a whirl," he said, 
rising with a certain embarrassment. 

"We'll go with you," Charley said. 

Soon we were standing beside the table, guzzling spareribs and 
sausages. 

"Good," Charley said. 

"Damn right," the student seconded. 

"Formidable," I agreed. "Hadn't realized I was so hungry." 

"Thank God for the lowly pig," the student said, stoking him- 
self with sausage. 

"Ummm," Charley muttered. "Try some of these cauliflowers 
and cheese." 

"Uh-uh," the student replied. "Right now I'm carniverous." 

I was moving on to the ham-and-cheese canapes. "Try these, 
then. Lots of protein — and they're a dinner in themselves." 

We stood around, chomping. 

Paula and Rollo came in, looking well pleased. I concluded the 
episode abovestairs had been comparatively successful, though I 
was more interested, naturally, in the long-range prospects. "Hi," I 
said. "Come and pitch in." I reflected that Alex was wrong — partly 
wrong, at all events. In condemning the "backroom business" out 
of hand, in saying one must always choose one's time and place. 

280 



Occasionally the time and place do the choosing, and then it is 
right as rain. 

"I recommend these spareribs," the student said. "You shouldn't 
miss them." 

"It all looks so good," Paula sighed. "It's hard to choose." 

She took a couple of spareribs though, and some celery and 
olives. Rollo stocked his plate. We all stood around, chomping. 

"Good," Rollo said. 

"A gas," the student said. 

Rollo looked startled. He chomped a while, then said: "Say, did 
you notice that hand out there with the egg in it?" 

"Couldn't help noticing, could you?" the student said. 

"Curious," Rollo muttered, and returned to his chomping. 

"What I'm wondering," I said, "is whether or not one dares cut 
into that cheesecake." 

"Why not?" Paula asserted. "She wouldn't have put it there if 
it weren't to be eaten." 

She found a serving knife on the sideboard, and cut chunks of 
the cake for each of us. More chomping. 

"Man, this is living," the student said. In the marveling quality 
of his voice I thought I recognized the possible tones of Lazarus. 

"It's very good," Charley said. "Wish I could eat more." 

Mrs. Pocksman poked her head through the doorway. "So glad 
to see you in here," she said. "I was afraid no one was going to 
touch it." 

"It's delicious, Mrs. Pocksman," Paula said. 

"Magnificent," Rollo added. 

"Emphatically," the student said, with his mouth full. "Have 
you ever tried rhubarb sauteed with veal?" 

"I'm so sorry," Mrs. Pocksman called, as she ducked out again. 
"It's upstairs in the medicine cabinet." 

"What did she say?" the student asked. 

"I think she thought you were asking for bicarb of soda," I said. 

"Oh." 

"Time for us to be leaving," Rollo said. 

Paula concealed a yawn. "It's been a long day." Actually she 
looked as fresh as ever. 

"It's getting on — we'll all leave soon," I said. But this is fine, I 

281 



thought. If the beginning has been made in the security, so to 
speak, of numbers, he ought to be able to carry on in private. 

"Good night." 

"So long." 

"Drive carefully." 

"Oh, we will." 

"See you tomorrow." 

"Yes — not too early." 

"Thanks for everything, you two. The magazine owes you a lot 
for this afternoon — whatever comes of it." 

"Don't be silly. It had to be done— that's all." 

"Well, good night." 

"So long." 

And they were gone. 

"Me, too," Charley said. 

"Yes, it's time to cut out," the student said. 

I looked at my watch. Quarter past twelve. Not late by any 
means; but I had an appointment to keep. "Yes," I said. "I'll be 
leaving too." 

"Can I catch a lift with you?" Charley asked. "I left my car at 
home this morning — didn't want to risk getting hung up without a 
parking space at the courthouse." 

"Of course," I said. "Can I drop you off too?" This to the 
philosophy student. 

"No, thanks. I always go for a walk at night anyway." 

"Okay," I said. I took Charley aside to a corner of the dining 
room. "What about Alex?" I asked. "Has she gone home?" 

"No," Charley said, looking down at his hands. "She went with 
Bruno. He's sick, something the matter with his heart, I think — she 
drove him home in his car, then she'll get a taxi back." 

"I see," I said. "Okay, we can leave in a minute. I need to make 
a visit upstairs first, though." 

"I'll wait in the front room," Charley said. 

I climbed the stairs again. In the John I saw I'd declined some- 
what from my best hour. Coffee, I thought — that's what I need. 
Get some when I get home. Funny there wasn't any here: Mrs. 
Pocksman lying down on the job. I smoothed my hair, wet my 
fingers, wiped them on a pale green towel. I heard footsteps in the 

282 



hall outside. A last glance; then I opened the door, stepped out, 
and saw at once who was there: Mrs. Pocksman, followed by 
Fillermine, was just entering the little room at the end of the hall. 

Bravo! 

No point in attempting to thank mine hostess, I thought, but 
better seek out mine host; I tramped, a little heavily, down the 
stairs. 

I hadn't far to seek. Pocksman was waiting for me, weaving 
soddenly, at the foot of the stairs. From his pinched face sprang 
two red eyes and a gnash of mahogany teeth. He was jumping up 
and down on both feet, with his arms outstretched. "You!" he 
howled. "Miserable editor! Thief! Cheating poor poets of their just 
due! You black bastard, I'll have the law, you understand! — you, 
you poem-snatcher, I'll have the law! Hah! Drinking my liquor, 
eating my food — and what do I get for it?" Tears of rage gleamed 
on his papery jowls. "My poems stolen, fruit of my anguished 
hours! Stolen, do you hear? Stolen away from me." He clutched 
my lapels and shook me. "Give them back to me," he wailed. "Give 
me back my poems." 

"Easy, Pocksy, keep your shirt on," I said placatively. "You'll 
have them back in no time, I promise." 

"Ah-h-h-h-h," he shrieked. "You won't read them! I knew it, 
knew it! God in Heaven, he doesn't even open the manuscripts! 
Justice! Justice!" 

"But of course I read them, Pocksy," I said. "Very interesting 
too. But there are so many — " 

He leapt. "Out!" he bawled, whipping his finger toward the 
door. "Out of my house! You'll not trespass on my hospitality 
another instant! Do you hear? Out! Out! . . . Oh, merciful heaven, 
justice! Pour down retribution on this . . . this . . . this 
ba-a-a-astard!" He broke into inconsolable weeping. 

I feinted around him, and broke for the front door at a run, 
pushing Charley ahead of me. 



283 



CHAPTER 44 



I drove in silence, Charley also did not speak, we moved north 
on Woodlawn, past 55th, 53rd, 47th, across the quiet night. A few 
people were about, a few cars and buses. The bars were lighted. 
This fellow Charley, I thought, how shall I take him now — the one 
who was to kill me, the one whom I was to kill? Absurd: Alex was 
right to laugh at me. Yet I can't say there isn't a terrible enmity 
between us. A mortal enmity. He says nothing, does not move. Is it 
benevolence or malignity that he radiates? Or neither? Perhaps his 
placidity is only a disguise for the universal human bewilderment, 
fermenting in him now with particular unintelligibility. Perhaps he 
simply doesn't know what to do or think. God knows, I don't either. 
Defeated, both of us, brought to rest before the inconceivable — a 
human being. As I say, it was a mortal enmity. 

I parked at some distance from the apartment house, taking the 
first space I saw. We climbed the stairs. "Coffee?" Charley asked, 
and I nodded. We both went into his flat. I paced nervously in the 
living room while he boiled water and measured coffee in the 
kitchen. The house, so well known to me, increased my nervous- 
ness, enclosing me in its walls; the identifying environment of my 
life, Charley's life, Alex's life. I was the adulterer, the odd man, 
and I was here. My danger seemed acute. 

Charley came in with two steaming cups, and handed one of 
them to me. He sat in the crimson-striped chair, and I took my cup 
to the end of the sofa. The cup rattled. My tension — still un- 
analysable and still perhaps unnecessary — reached the point at 
which a break was imperative. 

284 



"It's been a red-letter day for you, Charley," I said, and quickly 
sipped my coffee. 

"Yes, red," he said. "Red stands for hell." 

I put my cup on the low table and pressed my hands under my 
knees. "That sounds ominous." 

"Onimous? I'm not sure what that means. It's been the worst 
day of my life." 

"Charley, I'm astonished. What is it?" 

"You know. You must." 

"I? How can I know?" My breath strained in my throat. "What's 
eating you, Charley?" 

"Everything's gone to pieces, that's all." 

I got up and began pacing, slowing, regularly, along the carpet. 
"You better tell me," I said. "I suppose it's Alex — her behavior 
tonight. At least I don't know what else could make you so upset." 

"It's Alex, all right. But I don't know, I don't know what to say 
about her, what to call her. Do you understand? Maybe she's just 
a bitch, a common bitch. You must know. ... I think she must be 
just a bitch, and yet she's done so many fine things." 

"I don't think Alex is a bitch, whatever she's done. And I don't 
think I know what a bitch is anyway. I don't trust classifications." 

"No, I suppose not." 

"What has she done, Charley? What's it all about?" 

"I don't know. I can't say now. I think you're the one who could 
tell me, if you wanted to." 

"Me? I haven't the least idea what you're talking about, Charley. 
Honestly." 

"Maybe." 

"Look, Charley, if you have suspicions, perhaps it'd be best to 
spill them out. Talking helps sometimes. Maybe what you think is 
untrue." 

"I don't know. I can't talk about it now. It'll all be out in the 
open, one way or the other, soon enough." 

"When is Alex coming home?" 

"I don't know." He scowled at his hands. 

"Charley, it's late, I'm sure this whole business seems a lot worse 
now than it really is — you've been building it up in your mind. 
Tomorrow it will assume its right proportions." 

285 



"I don't know. We'll see." 

I picked up my cup and gulped the coffee. It was now half cold. 
"Can I do anything, Charley? You want to come over to my place 
for a nightcap?" 

"No. No, thanks. Ill just stay here." 

— And Linda is sleeping now, I've just gone to see, her breath 
passes in and out as lightly as a summer breeze in the forest, and 
her breast quivers like the leaves on a beech sapling. — Charley 
would not sleep; I didn't know what he would do that night, but I 
knew he would not sleep. 

"Ill be getting home, Charley. I'm done in." 

"You know something? You say you don't know what a bitch is, 
and maybe I don't know what a son-of-a-bitch is — but sometimes I 
think you're one. Do you know you always talk down to me? I 
don't think you even know it. It's true though — you always do." 

"I do know it, Charley. Maybe I'm a son-of-a-bitch. I guess I am. 
You're not the first one to tell me so, at any rate. But I do know 
when I'm talking down to you, I'm probably just as aware of it 
as you are. Maybe more, even. I can't help it. I do my best — most 
of the time — but I can't help it. Maybe that's my curse, Charley, 
as much as yours." 

"Yes, yes. I knew it wasn't worth mentioning." 

"I've got to go now, Charley." 

"Okay. Good night." 

"Good night, Charley." 

I went out, closing the door carefully and quietly behind me. 

Did Charley know? 

He must. 



286 



CHAPTER 45 



I took off my coat, tie, and shirt, and washed myself. When I 
wash Linda her arms are like paper, they stay where I put them, 
and the skin of her belly is translucent, as if the light inside were 
shining through. I shaved, gently because my face was still raw 
from the shave I had had in the morning. I put on a fresh shirt, 
and a different tie and coat, transferring my wallet and cigarettes. 
I went out. I walked as quietly as I could down the stairs, down the 
front steps, along the sidewalk to my car. But before I reached my 
car I heard other footsteps on the walk behind me, and before I 
started my car I heard another car start up. Charley 

I drove south on Lake Park Avenue to 55th and put the car in a 
vertical slot in front of a hotel. Another car was behind me, too far 
back to be distinguished in the night. I looked at my watch: one 
minute to one. When I got out of the car, the cold air hurt me, 
chilling the perspiration on my forehead. 

The walk to the Promontory leads down from the street, across 
a small park, through a tunnel under Lakeshore Drive, and out 
onto the Promontory itself, which is a rocky spur jutting a hundred 
yards into the lake. A path leads to the farthest point and there are 
benches beside it. As I walked across the park, I heard footsteps on 
the street; when I entered the tunnel, I heard heel-taps quicken 
behind me. In the dark tunnel, I thought I saw a shape crouching 
ahead of me, but I did not flinch and it was nothing. Before I 
reached the end of the tunnel, the steps behind me had entered, 
echoing cavemously. I hurried. I was panting now, and sweating in 
the cold. My perspiration clung to my ribs like rime. 

287 



Charley has a gun, I thought. Charley has a gun. He actually 
has it, owns it, possesses it — a real gun. No dream, no metaphor. 
Deadly metal, cold and tight. He is walking behind me now, here. 

In the cold of late night my back was scorched with fear. It 
burned with the fire of the gun. 

But when I saw Alex I was more afraid, because she was sitting 
on a wooden bench with Bruno, at one side of the Promontory. 
And I thought: Charley will kill all of us, it will be a cataclysm of 
blood and death, a newspaper scandal, here by this park bench in 
the darkness. 

I came up to the bench, and in a few second Charley was beside 
me. Alex looked at us. "I have something to tell you both," she 
said. "That's why I asked you to come." 

Now, Charley. Now. Now. 

But nothing happened. I was faint, but heard then, remotely 
through my vertigo, the words which Alex had said, as if for the 
first time. She had asked us both to come. Charley had been asked 
to come. He wasn't following me, he had come of his own accord. 
He didn't know, he still didn't know. 



288 



CHAPTER 46 



"Rig and I are going away together," Alex said. 

Charley said: "I know. I mean I thought it must be that. Why, 
Alex?" 

"I have to leave, Charley — sooner or later you would ask me to. 
I'm not good now, not for the part you want me to play. It isn't 
what you think, not altogether. It's just that I'm — not strong 
enough for it now. You don't understand." 

"No, Alex. That doesn't matter. I do understand how people can 
get strong in time. I'd be glad to wait for it, Alex." 

"No, Charley. It might never happen, it would take too long. 
Lives are to be lived, Charley — yours too." 

Charley made no answer. 

Alex said to me: "I asked you to come too because I want to 
leave Charley in your hands. You and I love Charley more than 
anyone else does." 

Bruno sat half in a shadow. 

I hesitated. Then: "I'm not very good at that sort of thing, Alex. 
I can't even take care of myself. But all this is fantastic anyway. 
Fantastic. Have you lost your reason? — all this calm sweeping 
away of people and events, you can't do it, it's not sane." 

"Don't worry about sanity and insanity so much." 

I didn't know what to say to that. 

After a few seconds I put my hand on Charley's shoulder and 
said to him: "Do you mind, Charley — Alex and I had better have 
a word or two alone?" 

"No, of course not," he said. 

289 



"Let's walk a bit, Alex/' I said. 

We left Charley and Bruno on the bench, sitting at opposite 
ends. We walked toward the water's edge. The waves were running 
in lightly, stumbling against the stones. We stood by the point, 
looking out. 

"Alex," I said, "I've eaten too much, drunk too much, and God 
knows heard too much. I'm not thinking well, I know. But what 
in the sweet hell is it all about? You say I love Charley, but I love 
you too — very simply and completely, in spite of all our muddle- 
ment. You know you're killing me?" 

She raised her head. "Yes, Poppy." 

I went on, hurriedly. "All right, forget about me. I think I must 
be really half-dead; I don't know what I think or feel. Perhaps I do 
love Charley enough to think of him first. I think tonight I do. 
Let's say you can ditch me — just like that. No regrets, no re- 
proaches. But Charley? You're not only breaking his heart, you 
know. It's not as simple as that. You're breaking him completely." 

"I know." 

"Then why? Why?" 

"I've told you — I'm broken too, I can't be Charley's wife any 
longer. That's a duty, an . . . obligation. Too much, far too much. 
I can't perform it any more." 

"But — " I stopped. "Oh, hell, I think this is crazy, whatever you 
say. For instance, is it possibly, conceivably true, what they say 
about Bruno being a — " 

"Yes, it's true." 

"Then for God's sake, it's madness — madness compounded. 
Why? Why? What are you up to?" 

"Rig needs me," she began. "But that's not it, others would do 
as well. I need him — terribly. In the first place, I need someone to 
pity, you must have seen that long ago, and I don't think I can 
pity Charley any longer — it's the other way around now. He 
doesn't want it or need it, and my pity's worn out. For you too." 

"Alex, that's rationalization, and a poor job of it at that. You 
don't leave your husband on any such flimsy grounds. Or your 
lover." 

"I know. Wait, can't you? I'm coming to the point. The most 
important thing is that not only my pity's worn out, I'm worn out, 

290 



totally, the whole thing. I'm gone now, vanished— the part of me 
I always used to mean when I said 'I.' Am I making sense? All I 
can do is love now, crazy, mad love — yes, I'm using your terms. 
Crazy, mad love without a single constructive element, just taking, 
taking, grabbing everything, even things for which I have no use. 
I'm one total, simple, famous sex machine, that's all. And when 
you reach that stage you really haven't any sex left at all, sex means 
nothing. I'm sexless, just like Rig. The two of us make a perfect 
couple." 

"You're not being clear, Alex. What is it really?" 

"That's it really. I'm defiled, you muddlehead — can't you see it? 
Smell it, feel it? I can. I'm totally defiled. Only instead of being 
loathsome, I'm beautiful — too beautiful, a total beauty. Like some 
great flower, some hungry orchid, a perfectly natural thing. But I 
don't want to be a flower, I don't want to be a natural thing, I 
want to be a human being — at last. Above all, that's what I want. 
Why do you think I was so rough, as you said, with Fillermine this 
evening? Just to make him squirm? Of course not; he isn't worth 
it. I was trying to get back a bit of my own humanity. And it 
worked, I haven't felt as well as I do tonight for weeks." 

"I hadn't noticed." 

"No. A sex-driven man never notices. A woman is different, if 
you want to know the truth." 

"Alex, it all sounds like metaphysics to me " 

"I don't care what it sounds like. To me it's just a need, like air, 
like water Probably I haven't said it very well." 

"You tell me you're defiled, beautifully defiled. I must say that's 
a curious defilement. But by whom? — or what? I don't understand." 

"All right, you force me. By you. And it isn't the defilement 
that's beautiful at all, believe me." 

"By me? I don't understand." 

"Of course, by you. You've been responsible for the break be- 
tween Charley and me just as surely as if he had known about us 
and had taken matters into his own hands." 

"But he didn't know about us. Apparently he still doesn't — 
though Lord knows what I can believe from you now." 

"No, he doesn't. That's the truth." 

"But then — " I stopped, then went on. "You say you're defiled, 

291 



you say I've done it, you say that's why you must leave Charley. 
But Alex, you're talking like someone in an old melodrama. You 
make me sound like the wicked landlord. This is today, tonight. 
You can't tell me a woman with your capacity for experience is 
defiled, as you say, simply from taking a lover." 

"Oh, no. You don't escape that easily. It wasn't just sleeping 
with you, or loving you. And probably any other man in the world 
could have taken me and then left me intact. It's you, you your- 
self. Only your touch could have made me dirty." 

"What a hell of a thing to say, Alex." 

"No. My words are what you yourself have said many and many 
a time. You are saying them now." 

Yes, I was. 

But not now, not with Linda, I swear it — it's not true at all. I 
swear by the bell — what else can I swear by in a defiled world? — 
the bell she loves no longer that I keep here on my desk. 



292 



CHAPTER 47 



Spring. Rain. April rain. Steady and cold in the dark. For three 
days now; and the snow melts, the last of it. Yellow foam crum- 
bling in the woods. Water everywhere, puddles, streams, lagoons. I 
lean on the windowsill, looking out, and the water surrounds us, 
wavelets running in the starlight. Across the water, the apple tree 
shimmers indistinctly. It's as if the cottage were an ark, toiling and 
turning away on the flood, bearing us off to refuge, Linda, I, and 
the other. 

Alex went to her refuge. She had discarded the blue dress now, 
and wore a white, simple, almost classical garment, white as 
alabaster in the starlight; and her hair was ruffled by the night 
wind. Bruno led her away, down the walk from the Promontory, 
into the tunnel. For an instant the two were framed in the tunnel's 
entrance, poised frailly arm in arm against the interior blackness. 



293 



CHAPTER 48 



In Charley's flat again, we drank — first the remains of the booze 
we found in his cupboard, then the bottle I brought from my 
kitchen — and we scarcely noticed that one was bourbon, the other 
gin. Again Charley sat in the crimson-striped chair, I sat on the 
sofa. Charley's books, the uniform blue-bound volumes of Ameri- 
can treasures, were ranged in a cabinet beside him. For a long time 
he brooded, studying the titles. A few tears were in his eyes, like 
strands of cobweb that have escaped the broom; the tic alternately 
dozed and wakened. He got up and stalked from room to room, 
pursuing his image of despair, mocking it. His footsteps groaned 
on the carpet like frogs in a dry pond. At last he came and sat again 
in his chair. 

We were both drunk. But our minds seemed active and sober. 
No drink could intoxicate them now, short of unconsciousness. 

"I don't understand," Charley repeated over and over. "It is an 
evil thing, isn't it? Why does it happen? Who makes it happen? 
How can the world go on, how can anything work, if an evil thing 
happens — it will all come falling down. Thump." 

"Some good may come of it," I said. 

"How? What good?" 

"Your bearing it, or not bearing it — that might be a good. In the 
long run. In you." 

"Oh, I don't understand you!" 

We were both silent, drinking. 

Then Charley: "I tell you if a bad thing happens to a man out 
of a clear blue sky, then it is death, nothing but death, it is death 

294 



for everything, the world goes to pieces, there isn't anything left 
to be trusted, not the sun if it shines or the wind if it blows." 

"But you will still live, Charley. And eventually — " 

"No, it's death. Death. You can't put the world together again. 
Never." 

Silence. We drank and smoked. 

Charley asked: "Did you know?" 

"Perhaps. Something was wrong." 

"Yes. Yes. She's a bitch, isn't she?" But he held up his hand. 
"No, not a bitch. If only she were a bitch, things would be better. 
If she were a bitch then there would be not-bitches. But she is not 
a bitch, and so there are only — what? Alexes, Alexes everywhere." 

He brooded on the titles of the books. Finally he reached out and 
took one from the shelf. He read the title from the stamping on 
the cover. Huckleberry Finn. Slowly he opened the book, turning 
pages at random, and then he tore a handful of pages from the 
center and flung them into the air over his head, letting the 
mutilated book drop to the floor by his side. The pages slithered 
and sprawled. He reached for another book — The Red Badge of 
Courage — and tore its pages and flung them in the air, letting the 
mutilated book fall to the floor by his side. A third book — Great 
Battles of the Civil War — was torn in the same way; and a fourth, 
a fifth, a sixth — The Essays of Bronson Alcott, Martin Eden, The 
Federalist. In a fury now he swept a dozen books to the floor, 
kicked them, spat on them, ground the pages under his heel. He 
took his glass and poured his drink over the debris. Tears shone on 
his face; his white shirt was drenched. 

I reached out and touched his hand. "Enough, Charley," I said. 
"You've made your point." 

"Je suis appelle Gaston," he said. "Actuellement." 

He rose from his chair again, went to the desk, opened the bot- 
tom drawer, took out the gun. 

"Actuellement," he said. 

I watched, very tense. 

"What do you think?" he said. "Bruno— that guy Bruno?" 

Relief, triumph flooding my veins. I was quiet. 

"Bruno?" Charley repeated. "You have to do something, don't 

295 



you — do something at a time like this. Isn't that so? They always 
do something, don't they?" 

I held my drink tightly in my fingers, squeezing the knuckles 
white. 

"Bruno," he said. 

He put the pistol in his pocket and went out the door, lurching. 



296 



CHAPTER 49 



But it was madness. What the devil was driving me? Of course 
Charley would never shoot anyone but himself — never in any 
circumstances. 

But it is Linda now; Linda, so ill, sleep broken and scattered; 
there will be none this night. This clear night, the stars shining on 
the waters beyond the window. I must gather the strands together. 
Linda, convulsed, writhing, trembling like a candle flame. 

What the devil is driving me? I cannot recognize myself. There 
or here. 

And I hurried, I did my best — down the stairs, clattering; bang- 
ing the door open. Time then only to see Charley's car swerving 
across 47th. Where was he going? Surely the Promontory again, I 
knew that. I stumbled into my car and drove again, trembling 
again, down Lake Park to 55th to the hotel parking space. 

But the cottage whirls, spinning away in the blackness, turning 
round and round, turning upon its center — Linda. Things are mis- 
carrying. Lord, I write, I run, I clutch the window, watching the 
stars in the waters, turning. 

Across the park, through the tunnel, waiting for the loud ex- 
plosion. It must come. Now. Now! But this thing is dead, Linda. 
Oh, my dear. And the tunnel snarls at me with echoes, bites me; 
and I run, cold and wet. Onto the Promontory where the blazing 
stars of the sky blaze too in the waters, all turning around above 
and below the pit of the universe — dead, dead — but Charley stood 
there — stood! — between stars and stars, whirling. "Where is the 
gun, Charley?" And he points into the starry waters, down, far 

297 



down, and I look, and I can almost see — dead, dead. And I fall, I 
am lurching down to the stones, laughing, laugh, my God, Linda — 
where are we? — throwing laughter everywhere clattering among the 
stars — the cottage turning away — through the stars — laughing tears 
blinding the stars — laughing — 



298 



CHAPTER 50 



Later now. And elsewhere. I am calm, pain subsides, the days 
have moved. Safe now. Again. Locked up again. Here the first 
daffodils are blossoming on the grounds, the lawns are turning 
green, bees and wasps investigate the window. I lean on the deep 
sill, pressing my forehead against the grid, so that two indentations 
remain in my flesh when I turn away. This is not foolishness, 
though doubtless the others think so; they don't laugh, no one 
laughs here, but they look at me and then away again; this is not 
foolishness, my pressing the bars, but simply a ritual means — 
rituals are important! — of communing with the solidarity of the 
place. Even more, the stolidity, the changelessness. Though, as a 
matter of fact, one or two changes have occurred since the last 
time. Additional beds, a new intern. The old-timers greet me as if 
I had come home from a journey to a foreign country. 

I lean on the windowsill and look out because — it took me 
several days to understand this — because it is spring. You see how 
strong is the old necessity? I'd like to lie in the sun and listen to 
someone reading from Hesiod. Though I know practically no 
Greek. 

Well, five days from now the T-and-O (tests and observation) 
will be over. Ill be able to go out in the yard with the others. 

Meanwhile, I have been given pencil and paper. 

I had intended to present you with a workmanlike book, not one 
of those lapidarian ornaments of literature that are so much ad- 
mired in these years — I haven't the skill for it and frankly don't 
think I care much for the type — but something at least sturdy and 

299 



straightforward; I know I have gone extremely wide of that mark; 
I had planned to go back, of course, amending, amplifying, im- 
proving wherever possible, cutting away false impressions I may 
have created in my haste, reordering some of the misplaced re- 
membrances which I originally set down as they occurred to me; 
but now there is no opportunity for even these minor repairs. 
Probably there will never be an opportunity. This place is not a 
workroom, needless to say, and the job of amending my book 
would be difficult anyway, perhaps impossible. Because, you see, 
you are receding from me, you who have been with me so long, 
receding farther and farther away, now that the real meeting I had 
envisioned between us will almost certainly never occur. I mean, of 
course, the time when you would sit with my book, finding me on 
the white pages and in the clean print. Now there will be no pages, 
no print, and the loss, I imagine, in the circumstances, is only — 
well, let it pass. 

I use my regained equilibrium only to say this hopeless afterword 
to myself. (Though I still speak to you. Is habit inextinguishable?) 
Usually people who write books try at the end to dispose of their 
narrative in a tidy way, but I can't do that: I don't know what has 
become of my old friends and enemies. Paula, Fillermine, Pocks- 
man, Cienkiewycz, Alex herself — they are elsewhere, no longer in 
my book, or in me. On the contrary, it is I who am in them, I 
don't know how — I can feel myself in them, scattered, remote, but 
living still. Rollo is the only one who has been "loyal," in the 
vulgar sense; he came to see me here from time to time in the 
previous sojourn, perhaps a dozen visits over the years. Through 
him I learned that Charley went back to France, was conscripted 
to serve in the French army, and was killed in a street skirmish at 
Dienbienphu. Rollo found out, when I asked him to, by writing to 
Charley's sister Angelique, whose address he obtained from 
Cienkiewycz — I felt I couldn't write to Cienkiewycz myself. Rollo 
is a member of an Owenite community near here. Well, I call it 
Owenite, which annoys Rollo somewhat. He says the group's 
principles are much more sophisticated than that. He has a beard 
and wears tennis shoes tied with black string. 

Rollo believes that my sense of living in the others is an abroga- 
tion of responsibility to myself, an acquiescence in my forced 

300 



"withdrawal." On the other hand, the doctors say it is a guilt- 
projection. I don't really care which, if either, is correct, since I'm 
sure no one who ever lived has been wise enough to tell. It's all the 
same anyway, all one. I read a good deal of history from the library 
here. 

Charley is dead, then. I would know it even if Rollo had not 
written to Angelique, for long ago I ceased to feel Charley's ex- 
istence, though I remember him perfectly. Can I trust this sense? 
That's the important question now, today; not whether it is ex- 
plainable, but whether it is reliable. If it is, then Linda is alive; but 
I have no corroboration. They have done something with her, but 
they don't tell me what. They told me that when I was sleeping, 
after they had given me the injection, I said, "Let her die, let 
Linda die," and they asked me what I meant. I told them it doesn't 
matter, but perhaps it really does. You see, I believe in one thing, 
my mind understands one truth, that reality is fortuitous. Don't 
mistake me, I don't deny cause and effect, I am practical and a 
realist; I simply say that causality is will-less and also infused with 
a radical and cosmic multiplexity. Hence it is neither predictable 
nor governable in any terms comprehensible to intellect as we 
know it; reality is fortuitous. Which means that the notion of 
justice is a fiction — worse, a self-contradiction. But a lovely notion, 
nevertheless. The most beautiful of all. If anything has meaning, 
anything, then there ought to be justice, someone, some human 
being, ought to succeed. My body — blood, bone, nerve — is a pain 
of yearning: let there be one success, only one. If in my sleep I 
asked it for Linda's sake, perhaps that was a personal vanity — 
wanting the thing to happen within the ambience of my personal 
knowledge. Perhaps it might better happen elsewhere. I can only 
say that Linda is worthy, a pure heart and a clear intelligence. I 
love her. I love her more than anyone, past or present. But that 
is another aspect of yearning, perhaps not germane. In reality, no 
one succeeds. Not one of us. Ever. 

The baby didn't. It is dead. But it was alive — briefly. They told 
me it probably came out living, and that in a sense it brought on 
the miscarriage itself through its own blind living desire to escape 
from the dying world in which it found itself ... so luminous, so 

301 



purposive that small existence was. And now a vacancy, nothing 
more. 

Have they dropped the bomb yet? Has it begun? Is it coming 
nearer? We have little news here. 

These are unconnected notes, you understand. No attempt to 
bring matters to a smooth ending. You must forgive me — there 
isn't any way to work intensively or deliberately here. I wonder, 
would I have been better off if the opportunity to work in concen- 
tration had been denied me all along? I aimed very high — you 
understand that also, I'm sure; all my fine writing, word-searching, 
pressing for ultimate meanings, it was perhaps bound to collapse 
simply from its own weight. At any event, I couldn't support it. 
And the real folly was that I should ever have thought for an 
instant that I could, as if I hadn't been through defeat after de- 
feat. But I hoped for a moment — a few months — I might ask this 
little for myself: those lovely hills and woods, that cottage, Linda; 
a chance to discuss with you who might be my friends the things 
we know and care about. Was it so much to ask? A meaningless 
question. 

Remember Charley, though. I thought for a while I would ask 
you to remember Linda and me; but that was foolish. I thought of 
asking you to love us and to pity us in our adversity; but it is 
enough that we love you, and that we shall never be the ones 
who start a war. We are the principles of love, Linda and I, and 
so you need not remember us; indeed, you cannot — you can dis- 
cover us only within yourselves, in which event we shall have differ- 
ent names and faces. Linda and I do not exist, as we ourselves are 
the first to recognize. But Charley exists — outside you, beyond you; 
he is one of the rare persons in history who can tell you something 
about yourself that you do not know and cannot discover by your- 
self. He is a teacher. He teaches you the impersonal validity of 
existence: the protest which was his life was lived not for his sake 
nor for ours, but so that the protest alone might have the dignity, 
however ephemeral, of a name. It was an act of pure transcendence. 
This is why I think you should — must — always remember him. 

April 19, 1962 

302 




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